Fast Guard

Mayor Chuck Cahn called for armed guards at all Cherry Hill township schools Tuesday, including Cherry Hill High School East, the scene of days of protests surrounding concerns over a lack of security.

Cahn made the call during a contentious school board meeting in which 62 students and parents addressed the board during a nearly 4-hour-long session, many hurling angry barbs at the unpaid board members with shouts of “do your job!”

After the meeting, Cahn said the board should have moved on this proposal years ago.

“This is a plan we put forth to the board after Sandy Hook,” Cahn said, referring to the Connecticut school shooting in 2012 that claimed the lives of 27 people, including 20 children between the age of 6 and 7. “This is a plan that’s been on the table for a number of years that we’ve been advocating for. They shelved the proposal and never acted on it. They should have acted sooner.”

The call for better security comes after a teacher was suspended for allegedly criticizing safety at the school in the wake of the fatal high school shooting in Florida earlier this month.

Cahn said the district already employs two retired police officers at both township public high schools — which serve more than 3,500 high school students combined —  who are trained to carry fire arms but don’t because of board policy. He said weapons for the officers have been stored with the police department for a number of years.

Cahn said the district should immediately change the policy. He said a meeting with district officials is planned for Friday to discuss changes.

Cahn and the township council also endorsed a call for metal detectors in the township’s two high schools and is willing to help fund the changes with the district.

Superintendent Joseph Meloche declined to comment on Cahn’s proposal when asked about it after the meeting. Board President Barry Dickinson and Vice President Eric Goodwin also declined to comment. They said the board had not had a chance to consider the proposal.

History teacher Timothy Locke was placed on administrative leave last week after he described a scenario in which Cherry Hill East could be vulnerable for an armed attack because of security he considered lax, according to statements attributed to Locke in published reports.

An attorney for Locke, Amy Gillette, did not return calls for comment on Monday and Tuesday.

School officials declined to discuss Locke’s situation, calling it a “personnel matter.”

Locke’s suspension was the catalyst for much of the unrest this week, students said.

About 250 people squeezed into the all-purpose room of the Malberg Administration Building on Tuesday for the regularly scheduled board meeting, with the standing-room-only crowd packed four to five deep spilling out the door.

Earlier in the day, students at East used civil disobedience to disrupt class schedules for the second consecutive day by walking out of school in a procession around the sprawling campus and onto the front sidewalk on Kresson Road before being coaxed back inside for a meeting in the school auditorium with Principal Dennis Perry that several students described as heated.

Many said the protests were also fueled by calls for action from students in Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the scene of a shooting massacre that left 17 people dead on Valentine’s Day earlier this month, including 14 students.

“A lot of our students are close with (Parkland) students and that’s what drove us to do this,” said Hannah Vandick, a senior at East before the meeting. “We wanted them to know we knew what they were going through.”

Many of the 26 students who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting criticized East’s principal, Dennis Perry. They characterized him as rude to them and insensitive to their concerns about safety and respect.

However, after the walk-out on Tuesday, Perry rescinded a threat to bar students who participated in unsanctioned protests earlier this week from attending the senior class trip to Florida and the prom.

“I was very proud of the students and the way in which they maintained their composure,” Perry wrote in a letter addressing the protest and student concerns released hours before the meeting.

In the letter, Perry said he was “formally retracting” his threat and offered a seven-point plan to address student concerns, including and organized “walk” on March 14, a national day of action called for by Stoneman Douglas students.

“I don’t think it will change what’s going on just because of how mad our school is as a community,” Hannah said. “I think it will take a couple of weeks.”

Eric Ascalon, a parent would spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, said Perry’s reversal “came from the pressure your kids put on him.”

Board members appeared to be visibly weary at the conclusion of the marathon meeting after enduring withering attacks and catcalls through two-and-a-half hours of public comment during the nearly four-hour meeting.

Bill Duhart may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find on FacebookHave a tip? Tell us.

On – 28 Feb, 2018 By Bill Duhart