Hundreds of students at a New Jersey high school staged a walkout Tuesday to protest the suspension of a beloved history teacher who spoke out about school safety in the aftermath of the deadly Florida high school massacre.
Timothy Locke, an AP history teacher at Cherry Hill East High School in Camden County, N.J., was suspended after he brought up safety concerns about a possible shooting at the school during a class after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Fla., earlier this month, NBC 10 reported.
Students held a protest in the school auditorium Tuesday before staging a walkout. More than 500 students have signed a petition in support of Locke.
“I absolutely thought something needed to be done in support of my history teacher,” said Justin Prechodko, the student who organized the petition. “This man just meant too much to me for me to sit down and watch this injustice happen.”
Melanie Wimmer, a mother of one of the students, told NBC10 that she fully stands behind the students: “They decide to walk out tomorrow as they did today, I support them. They get suspended, I support them.”
Students interviewed by NBC10 claim that the school’s principal had threatened to suspend them or cancel their senior trip and prom if they held the walkout.
In an interview with Philly.com, Locke said that he was placed on administrative leave and ordered to undergo a physical and psychiatric evaluation after a female student became upset by him bringing up the Parkland shooting during class.
Philly.com spoke to one student who said that Locke said the “chances of East being shot up were high.”
Locke said he has mentioned in the past that Cherry Hill East has been compared to Columbine, based on demographics, something the New York Times pointed out in 2000. He also voiced concerns about the lack of armed police officers in the school.
Cherry Hill Police Chief William Monaghan said the two officers stationed at the school work for the school district, not his department. Locke and several students said the two officers, listed as “campus police” on the school’s website, are not armed.
“This was a relevant topic of discussion,” said Eric Ascalon, whose son, Zaiden, was in Locke’s class last year. “He said ‘I just want you students to know that I’d stand between the gunman and you guys,’ and he also criticized the administration.”
Student Jacob Singer said Locke was simply trying to “motivate his students to try to stand up for something that we shouldn’t have to fight for. ”
“What they did to this amazing teacher is completely unfair and absurd,” Singer said.
“The bottom line is that I was very concerned about the security at my school,” Locke said. “I was adamantly concerned with the welfare of my students.”
“All I have ever done for that school is for my students and for their parents,” Locke said.