By nearly every account Timothy Locke is one of the most beloved teachers in the Cherry Hill, New Jersey school district.
Locke is a veteran of the Iraq war and for the past 17 years he’s flavored his classroom lessons at Cherry Hill East High School with real-life experiences.
But on Feb. 22 the veteran school teacher was summoned to the principal’s office where his bag was searched, he was placed on administrative leave and was ordered to undergo a physical and a psychiatric evaluation.
The school’s decision prompted dozens of students to stage a protest on Monday and by Tuesday those numbers rose to the hundreds – as young people called on the district to return Locke to the classroom.
According to parents and students Locke’s only crime was to address his concerns about school safety with youngsters in his Advanced Placement History class. The teacher feared a similar attack could happen at Cherry Hill East.
“During the course of the conversation he indicated that he would protect his students if something like (Parkland, Florida) happened here,” parent Eric Ascalon told the Todd Starnes Radio Show. “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 reassured his students that if someone tried to attack the school he would be there to protect them. That’s a good thing, right?
Well, the leadership at Cherry Hill East felt otherwise after a student in the classroom complained.
The school district refuses to comment on what was said or why Locke was placed on administrative leave. Locke, too, has stopped talking on the advice of his attorney.
But before that happened he granted an interview to Philly.com.
“The bottom line is that I was very concerned about the security at my school,” Locke told the newspaper. “I was adamantly concerned with the welfare of my students.”
Philly.com reports the school is guarded by two unarmed “campus police” – but the officers are not employed by local law enforcement.
“He was speaking up and addressing an issue that has to be addressed,” Ascalon told me.
Students by the dozens staged a protest on campus Monday – urging the school to reinstate the teacher.
"A lot of what the school here is doing is trying to shut out what happened in Florida, instead of saying 'this is what we have to do, this is what we're going do next,' how we can fix what we are doing," sophomore Debbie Goldberg told ABC News.
"Mr. Locke, if you're watching, we got your back," said senior Justin Prechodko.
Ascalon said his son was enrolled in one of Locke’s classes last year and called him an “amazing teacher who has an ability to connect with the students on a variety of levels.”
He also pointed out the discussion was held during an advanced academic class.
“It’s an upsetting topic (school safety), but it’s a topic the students are crying out to address,” Ascalon said. “He speaks to them like young adults who are capable of critical thinking,”
It’s too bad the Cherry Hill East High School does not share the same capability – to think critically.
Instead of honoring a war veteran teacher willing to think outside of the box, the school districts sends him to a shrink. That’s just plain nuts.