When New Jersey’s Sayreville Public School District threatened to suspend students if they walked out of school on Wednesday, it caused a small uproar.
Officials said the demonstration for National School Walkout Day, in which students across the country planned to walk out of school for 17 minutes to protest gun violence, would be a safety hazard, reported MyCentralJersey. The district threatened students with an automatic two-day suspension for participating, and reminded students on morning announcements of the consequences of participating, NJ.com reported.
The official reasons for the suspensions would be “continued and willful disobedience” and “failure to follow administrative direction,” administrators told MyCentralJersey.
The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the district calling the threatened punishment “unconstitutionally impermissible” and that it amounted to a violation of students’ First Amendment rights.
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“This is by far the most punitive that we've heard of in the state,” Tess Borden, staff attorney with ACLU-NJ, told NJ.com.
The district didn’t back down, and students did stay inside, opting instead for a controlled gathering inside an auditorium, WINS reported.
That is, except for one student.
Rosa Rodgriguez, a sophomore at Sayreville War Memorial High School, was the only student to walk out of the building when 10 a.m. came around, local media reported.
“If you were gonna come outside in the first place, you should have still came outside. Just because you didn't want to have these consequences and stuff, just stay inside, you should have came outside and proven them wrong,” Rodriguez told WINS.
Her parents told News 12 they support her even if she is suspended for the protest. Rodriguez was escorted back into the school by officers, the station reported.
News of Rodriguez’s decision immediately went viral on Twitter. MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle even invited Rodriguez to appear on her show during one of her suspension days.
She also began picking up Twitter fans who praised her for having the “guts” to walk out despite the threat of punishment.
Sayreville is not unique, however. Many schools have threatened to punish students for walking out of class during the school day, citing safety hazards and disruptions to the school day, and some even reportedly blocked students from exiting buildings.