After serving his country in the war in Iraq, veteran Timothy Locke came home, and for the last 17 years he has taught students at Cherry Hill East High School in New Jersey. Much beloved by students and parents alike, Locke flavored his classroom with real-life experiences and in the days following the Valentine’s Day shooting at Margory Stoneman High School in Parkland, FL that left 17 students and faculty members dead, it was no different.
Yet on February 22, Locke was summoned to the principal’s office where his bag was searched. He was then placed on administrative leave and ordered to undergo both physical and psychiatric evaluations. His crime? Daring to address his concerns about school safety with the students in his Advanced Placement History class. Parents and students alike came to Locke’s defense stating the Iraqi war veteran merely expressed concern that a similar shooting could happen at their high school and should those horrible events come to pass he would protect his students at all costs. The decorated Iraq combat veteran also talked about protective measures the school could take in order to prevent such an event from occurring.
Parent Eric Ascalon whose son, Zaiden, was in Locke’s class last year stated – “ The students love him unequivocally. After the events in Parkland, there was no mention in the schools. There was no addressing the issue with students and the one teacher that brings up the concerns is suspended. During the course of the conversation, he indicated that he would protect his students if something like (Parkland, Florida) happened here. He was raising safety concerns about the school with the students. And the intent of his statement (was that) he would protect his students at all costs.”
Imagine that, folks. An Iraq war veteran does his level best to reassure his students that if someone tried to attack the school he would be there to protect them. That’s a good thing, right? Well, apparently not if you are the administration of Cherry Hill East.
59-year-old Locke spoke to Philly.com about being placed on administrative leave after a student became upset after he discussed the Parkland shooting in his history class and expressed his fear that a similar crime could happen at the school. He mentioned in the past that Cherry Hill East has been compared to Columbine based its demographics and voiced concerns about the lack of armed police officers in the school. This was not a new comparison as it was also pointed out by the New York Times back in 2000.
In addition, Cherry Hill Police Chief William Monaghan stated he agreed with Locke’s assessment. The two officers stationed at the school work for the school district, not his department and they are not armed. They are listed as “campus police” on the school’s website, not resource officers or police off
WATCH LIVE: Students from Cherry Hill East are staging a walkout in support of history teacher Timothy Locke who was suspended after talking about security concerns in the wake of the massacre in Florida. https://t.co/wvMl4F209m pic.twitter.com/k8H23CvYUV
— Action News on 6abc (@6abc) February 27, 2018
Hundreds of students at Cherry Hill High School East are in the process of a walkout protesting the suspension of a teacher who spoke out about school safety in the aftermath of the deadly Florida high school massacre: https://t.co/e61hC2gIb5 pic.twitter.com/fLbPWPTs9Z
— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBCPhiladelphia) February 27, 2018
As a result of Locke’s suspension, students staged a walkout to show their support. Hundreds of students participated and were threatened with suspension for their show of support. Students chanted “Free Mr. Locke” and held signs that said “Return Locke” and “Rise Up for Mr. Locke.” Seniors were told if they did not immediately disperse they would forfeit their class trip and others were told they would forfeit their school prom. School administration held a question-and-answer session with Principal Dennis Perry in the auditorium where students were heard expressing their frustration for their beloved teacher.
Many expressed anger at the principal, who they argued has disrespected the students and not been forthcoming about their safety concerns. Students repeatedly praised Locke as the most inspiring teacher they have ever had throughout the meeting, stating their belief that the action taken against him was a form of censorship that has cowed other teachers at the school into silence.
A petition is also making the rounds demanding that Locke be reinstated. It currently boasts nearly 3,000 signatures. They are hoping to achieve 5,000 names to bring back their favorite teacher. You can view the petition here. Cherry Hill East student Emma McElwee commented on the petition – “Maybe CHE should work on protecting their students instead of suspending beloved teachers who want to educate and PROTECT the students! ’12 alum!’ Many other students have expressed similar concerns.
16-year-old junior Sam Grossman was there for the class discussion spurred by the Florida killings, stating – “It really upsets me that he got suspended. I’m assuming it’s for that. He has been a very genuine guy. I’ve only had him this year. I know other people have had him more, but I really hope he comes back. The school lost something great when they made Mr. Locke leave. If every teacher was like him, the school would be a better place.”
Grossman went on to explain that Locke listens to his students and inspires them to want to learn. He went on to explain – “Mr. Locke is one of very few teachers where he doesn’t have to say, ‘Put your phone away. Pay attention. People will listen to him because they like to hear him. Everyone loves Mr. Locke … Actually, when he was finished, we applauded him for it, but I guess one person didn’t and they went to [the] administration.”
Parents and others in the Cherry Hill community are also speaking up with a plea from the town’s mayor for the school board to act on security, as well as a meeting of the board that drew an overflow crowd. Cherry Hill East senior Lauren Atkin spoke at the board meeting as a student representative, stating – “The students have decided to fight for their teacher and for their security. Students have been held accountable and now we want to hold you accountable for keeping teachers that truly change lives and shape us into the young adults you want us to be.”