mainland protest
Brittany Bird, right, of Northfield, a sophomore at Mainland Regional High School in Linwood, and Paige Dellaffave, a junior from Linwood, join other students outside the school to protest staff cuts. Vernon Ogrodnek

LINWOOD - The day after a student walkout in support of laid-off teachers and staff, about 50 Mainland Regional High School Students gathered in the senior parking lot - this time, after school let out - to criticize Gov. Chris Christie's budget cuts and highlight the importance of the April 20 vote to approve the 2010-11 school budget.

"I am not going to lie to you - we can't save the jobs that have already been lost,"said junior Winston Roberts, of Linwood, speaking to the crowd about the 13 teachers and five staff members facing layoffs making up about 8 percent of the 233-member faculty. "I know it stinks, and we are losing some great teachers, (but) we still have a school full of teachers who will be in jeopardy of losing their jobs if the budget does not pass. So what are we going to do? We are going to organize and educate ourselves."

Stephanie Osoria, a junior from Northfield, took issue with Christie's comments in The Star-Ledger that student protesters were being "used" and were just "pawns" of teachers unions.

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"My response to that," Osoria said before the rally, "is that I was the one who created the group ‘New Jersey Students Against Gov. Christie.' The day we showed up in black, I saw e-mails from teachers who didn't have a clue we were dressing in black. ... We're doing this completely on our own. It's our clubs that are getting cut and our classes that are being cut."

Roberts called Christie's remarks "lies" and said that Christie was claiming that "students can't think for themselves or organize for themselves ... Well, we have news for you. We just did."

Besides the fate of the teachers, Osoria cited the other effects that the trimmed-down budget is having on the school - which they said would be only be made worse if the budget isn't approved next month.

"We watch current and upcoming athletes worry about not getting the opportunity to participate in sports next year," she told the rally. "We see our peer leaders and student ambassadors stress about not being able to follow through with some of our clubs and organizations. We experience our administrators having to spend agonizing days trying to figure out what new resources and materials have to be cut in order to make ends meet next year."

She added that they were "encouraging not just our students from Mainland, but students all over the state to take a stand with us and help make a difference. Show everyone how we do care about our education and (that) what Christie is doing to us is wrong."

Assistant vice principal Mark Marrone, watching the protest from a distance, said the students did the right thing by holding an after-school protest (school was in session Saturday to make up for a snow day) rather than repeat Friday's walkout. The two protests were organized by different students.

"It shows their civic-mindedness," Marrone said. "It shows the kind of kids we have in this school. Some people accuse (others) of putting this together, but the kids did it all on their own. I'm just here to make sure nothing gets out of hand."

Besides Mainland's walkout Friday, about 100 students at Oakcrest High School gathered in the auditorium for a meeting with teachers and administrators that was interrupted by cheers, claps and boos, while rumors of similar walkouts at Absegami Regional High School and Egg Harbor Township High School didn't come to fruition after officials warned students of potential punishments.

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