6:15pm ET: I’m still waiting to hear back from the offices of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Superintendent Cami Anderson. All three have yet to publicly comment on the walkout as far as I know.
The protest seems to have gone very well and best of all, the students aren’t done. Clearly, this is just the beginning.
I’ll have a more comprehensive report on today’s walkout and the budget cuts that provoked it at Truthout tomorrow.
In the meantime, consider donating or subscribing to Dispatches from the Underclass to support independent media coverage of significant, underreported stories like the Newark student walkout.
4:20pm ET: Khadija Bhatti, a freshman at University High School in Newark, tells me that around 2,000 students showed up to protest the budget cut hearing. The AP reported only 400 students walked out while the Star-Ledger estimated about 1,000.
4:10pm ET: Teachers are absolutely terrified to speak on the record about the budget cuts due to an atmosphere of intimidation and retaliation by Newark Public Schools. One teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of losing their job, asked that I not even include their gender because of how closely teachers are monitored by the higher ups.
3:30pm ET: Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey told me that schools cannot stop students from engaging in constitutionally protected activity.
“Students do not lose their constitutional rights when they walk through the school gate. That includes the right to engage in civil disobedience,” Ofer said. “Schools also have the right to punish [students] for violation of school discipline policy,” he added. Still, Ofer was clear that this does not give schools the right to threaten or prevent students from engaging in political activity.
I asked Ofer whether student’s constitutional rights still apply during a lockdown, which requires that school doors be locked and hallways cleared.
“If schools purposely lock the doors for the sole reason of preventing students from engaging in first amendment protected speech that raises serious concerns,” Ofer told me.
Lockdowns were enforced in at least two schools (Eastside and Weequahic) according to students I’ve spoken with. Thus far, school officials at both schools have repeatedly refused to answer questions about anything related to the walkout.
Ofer added that students who felt threatened, intimidated or that their right to free speech was violated in any way should immediately call the ACLU of New Jersey at 973-642-2084.
3:00pm ET: The Associated Press reports that 400 Newark public school students walked out to attend the budget hearing, which the outlet referred to as “a noisy protest”. In stark contrast, The Star Ledger reports around 1,000 students walked out of class and marched to Rutgers Law School where the hearing is being held.
2:20pm ET: I just spoke with 14-year-old Jelani Woods, a ninth grader at University High School who is currently at the protest outside the budget hearing. Woods tells me she didn’t believe the rumor going around about Eastside High School students being threatened with bats when they tried to walkout. “At first I didn’t believe it but I went up to students who got out and yeah it happened,” Woods told me.
She spoke with six Eastside kids who managed to sneak out of school through the “far exit”. They confirmed that school officials carried bats for intimidation purposes when preventing students from leaving.
However, I also spoke with a 16-year-old junior at Eastside High School who didn’t make it out and he thinks the bat rumor might be due to a misunderstanding. The 11th grader said that he saw a teacher carrying a bat and heard yelling, but he thinks the bat may have been confiscated from student.
He declined to give his name for fear he would get in trouble with the principal for speaking with a reporter. This is understandable given that the principal scolded the students who tried to leave.
“The principal yelled at us,” said the student. “He said that it’s pointless to protest for your education when you’re leaving school.”
Just before noon, the student told me that he and ten other students met in the lobby to walkout. “There was a lockdown at the time so students were deterred and went back to class,” said the student. He confirmed reports about the fire alarm going off allowing some students to exit through the back door, though he thinks the alarm went off due to a technical issue rather than students pulling it because he later saw technicians working on the system outside.
1:30pm ET: At least one student at Weequahic High School tells me that they are being blocked from leaving. It’s unclear whether it’s legal for school officials to physically prevent students from walking out. There are allegations on Twitter that both Eastside High School and Weequahic are on lockdown and that students at Eastside pulled the fire alarm to force their way out.
I called both schools and was hung up on. One administrator at Eastside denied there was a walkout taking place before transferring me to another administrator who confirmed it was happening but told me “now is a bad time” and hung up. The administrator I spoke with at Weequahic asked who I was. As soon as I said journalist, she replied “I can’t talk to you” and ended the call.
12:00pm ET: Students in Newark, New Jersey, are participating in a walkout today to protest budget cuts and school closings. They marched to Rutgers Law School where they are demonstrating in front of a State Assembly Budget Hearing on Education. A few students are set to address the hearing. I will provide video footage of this as soon as it’s available.