What to Know
- Cherry Hill's principal released a letter in which he responded to student protests over a teacher's suspension and security concerns.
- The principal retracted his earlier warning that anyone who protested could face disciplinary action and said he was proud of the students.
- Cherry Hill's Mayor announced efforts to work with the Board of Education to increase school security.
Cherry Hill High School East’s principal responded Tuesday to huge student protests over the suspension of a popular history teacher and demands for increased security in the wake of the Florida school massacre.
"Many East students have emerged as leaders in this situation," Dennis S. Perry wrote in a letter posted on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. “I am very proud of our students and the manner in which they have conducted themselves.”
Perry also backed off an earlier warning that a senior trip, prom or graduation could be withheld for any student who participated in Tuesday's walkout.
The controversy began Thursday when Timothy Locke, an AP History teacher at Cherry Hill East, was placed on administrative leave after discussing the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, an attack that killed 17 people.
Locke warned his class that a similar event could happen at Cherry Hill East and expressed concerns over school security. The teacher also voiced worry that two campus police officers were not armed, according to the Associated Press.
A student told Philly.com one of his classmates was visibly upset by Locke’s comments and went to the principal’s office to discuss her concerns. NBC10 has not confirmed that report.
Several students and parents told NBC10 they shared Locke’s concerns. A petition requesting that he be reinstated received around 500 signatures.
Hundreds of students marched Tuesday morning to Cherry Hill East’s football field while chanting "Free Mr. Locke."
After the walkout, the students returned to the auditorium and spoke with Perry.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
“I was very proud of the students and the way in which they maintained their composure," Perry wrote. "Many good ideas were shared and students were encouraged to continue their spirit of involvement.”
Some students told NBC10 they didn’t get the answers they were looking for while speaking with the principal Tuesday.
"We sat there for an hour and learned nothing about our safety, about our educators and what he’s going to do to protect us," said a senior, Jordan, who only provided their first name.
In his letter, Perry asked for the community to work with the school to continue to show support for the students. He also said they were working on an overall plan that included open dialogue sessions, more assemblies on school safety, a letter writing campaign to Parkland students, ways to contact congressional representatives, a student walk on March 14, and a school security discussion committee.
Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn also released a statement on security concerns at the high school and called for action to be taken.
“We stand ready and willing to partner with the Board of Education to do whatever we can to help improve security at all of Cherry Hill’s schools," Mayor Cahn said.
Both Cahn as well as members of the Cherry Hill Township Council say they’re working with the Board of Education to help increase safety in their schools.
“I look forward to working with the Mayor and the members of Council to make sure the Board expeditiously continues to address this vital need," Council President David Fleisher said. "No issue is greater than the safety of our children.”
Cherry Hill Police Chief William Monaghan recommended the Board, which will make the final decision on the security plan, utilize armed police officers as part of that plan.
Students and parents raised their concerns at another school board meeting Tuesday night.