Hundreds of East students walk out of school to protest teacher transfers

Demonstration brings light to an issue district has yet to comment on

The nearly 2,000 Cherry Hill East students who staged a school walkout on April 29 acknowledged that transfers are an annual occurrence, but they oppose the number of longtime specialized teachers at the secondary level being moved to different schools without a clear explanation. (Special to The Sun/The Sun)

Nearly 2,000 students walked out of Cherry Hill East on April 29 in a peaceful protest against the forced transfers of nine of their own teachers as well as others in the district. District officials estimate 1,000 students were in attendance.

The protest was organized earlier last month shortly after it was announced at a school board meeting that some longtime faculty members would be transferred to different schools, from high school to high school or high school to middle school. 

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Though teacher transfers are an annual process, there are more notable faculty at the secondary level being transferred than there have been in the past. Because the transfers are a personnel matter, the district is limited in what it can share publicly and has not commented on the issue.

The students described their protest as an attempt to spread awareness of student dissent,  along with community opposition voiced at the recent board meeting and in online petitions.

“We wanted to send the message that this is something students were willing to make a stand about and peacefully protest,” explained Aiden Rood, a junior and future student representative for board meetings.

The walkout lasted between 40 minutes to an hour after lunch and was organized by 11 East student leaders, including two student body presidents, multiple vice presidents, three board of education representatives and alternate representatives. While students from Cherry Hill West also voiced their opposition to the transfers at the last board meeting, it was the East students who organized in opposition to the district’s decision.

“The leaders of the Cherry Hill East student body firmly stand with many of our teachers against this unjustified mass relocation of Cherry Hill East teachers/staff,” said a statement from the protest organizers. “We see it as our responsibility to stand up for the voices of students and teachers as a collective learning community. 

“We understand that the decision is lawful and within teachers’ contracts,” the statement added. “However, we cannot understand how this sudden large-scale movement would be beneficial to East students and teachers, especially in this post-pandemic period.”

Rood said an ideal solution would be for the administration to first explain the reasons behind the transfers and how they might benefit the community, if at all. They also noted that the district should acknowledge how its decisions have hurt the community and reevaluate the moves.

“I think our community remains in that phase of trying to bring everyone back together, trying to rebuild from anything that was lost during the pandemic,” Rood said. “And teachers are some of the most critical people in that rebuilding, in that unity.

“To take them away right now, is going to be another setback.”

The Cherry Hill East newspaper, Eastside Online, reported that the transfers involve the following teachers: Dr. Kim Achilly, Jason DeFuria, Susan Dollarton, Rachel Friedman, Vanessa Intriago, Cathleen Lynch, Conor McVeigh, Mike Melograna and Thomas Rosenberg. Names of other teachers affected have not yet been released.

As stated in previous board meetings, many of the teachers have been with the East community for more than 20 years and have served as club advisors and experts in their field in addition to educators.

Rood noted that while the transfers were upsetting to students, another aspect of the protest was the district’s lack of expressed reasons for them. Most cited is the potential transfer of Rosenberg – who teaches AP U.S. History II – to Carusi Middle School, according to a petition with close to 1,000 signatures.

“I don’t think that this is something where we’re going to have one protest and everyone will move on,” Rood noted. “I think you’ll continue to hear from concerned members of the community at board of ed meetings just in discussion throughout the district … 

“There still are opportunities for change or for explanations, and we hope to continue to push for that.”

This article has been updated on May 6 to clarify that there were hundreds, rather than thousands of students with district officials estimating 1,000 students in attendance rather than 2,000.

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