Students at Cherry Hill High School East staged a protest Monday morning in support of a beloved but controversial teacher who was suspended last week after speaking out about security issues there.
Timothy Locke, 59, said he was placed on administrative leave on Thursday 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.
"The bottom line is that I was very concerned about the security at my school," Locke said Monday morning. "I was adamantly concerned with the welfare of my students."
Barbara Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Cherry Hill school district, said she could not comment on personnel matters. Several students and parents reached out to the Inquirer and Daily News in support of Locke, however, who began teaching at the school in 2001.
"The students love him unequivocally," said Eric Ascalon, whose son, Zaiden, was in Locke's class last year. "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."
Ascalon said his son was one of many who staged a protest Monday morning outside the school. The protest was later moved into an auditorium, Ascalon said, and several students, including his son, were taken to principal Dennis Perry's office.
On the website, Rate My Teachers, Locke has a 4.8 out of the 5-star rating system, with many students pointing out his "controversial statements."
"He can get off topic quickly, but is an awesome teacher and guy," one student wrote.
Gabriel Ritter, a 17-year-old senior at the school, said Thursday morning's class was no different.
"He said the chances of East being shot up were high," Ritter said.
After the class, Ritter said that a female student was visibly upset and that together, they went to the principal's office to discuss their concerns.
"I didn't have an issue with Mr. Locke, but I felt obliged to go there because this girl was a friend of mine," Ritter said.
Locke said he was called to Perry's office later that day, where he said his bag was searched. He was placed on administrative leave and ordered to undergo a physical and psychiatric evaluation.
"All I have ever done for that school is for my students and for their parents," Locke said.
Locke said he has mentioned in the past that Cherry Hill East has been compared to Columbine, based on demographics, something the New York Times pointed out in 2000. He also voiced concerns about the lack of armed police officers in the school.
Cherry Hill Police Chief William Monaghan said the two officers stationed at the school work for the school district, not his department. Locke and several students said the two officers, listed as "campus police" on the school's website, are not armed.
Ascalon shares Locke's concerns.
"This was a relevant topic of discussion," Ascalon said. "He said 'I just want you students to know that I'd stand between the gunman and you guys,' and he also criticized the administration."
Student Jacob Singer, who emailed the Inquirer and Daily News on Friday, said Locke was simply trying to "motivate his students to try to stand up for something that we shouldn't have to fight for. "