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Controversial "Free Palestine" walkout canceled at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees

"Free Palestine" walkout canceled at South Jersey HS, but some students plan to move forward
"Free Palestine" walkout canceled at South Jersey HS, but some students plan to move forward 02:14

VOORHEES, N.J. (CBS) -- A "Free Palestine" walkout at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees has been canceled. District leaders say they're changing course to a Rally for Peace next month after discussing things with students.

"This morning in a meeting involving various student leaders, including one of the students key to the walkout were in agreement that it would be best to work together and plan an alternative rally in support of humanitarian rights for all," said Eastern Camden County Regional School District Superintendent Robert Cloutier.

But students who supported the walkout told CBS News Philadelphia they didn't feel like they were a part of the process.

"It was described as a mutually agreed cancelation. That never happened. We were not a part of that conversation," says Ash Tavares, who is a junior at Eastern Regional High. "I think it is silencing and I think it is unfair."

Tavares says the district allowed a walkout in October after Hamas' initial attack on Israel.

But this latest walkout, originally slated for around 30 minutes during students' lunch period, drew concern from some in the community, as large protests over the conflict in Gaza happen across the country. Despite internal discussions over the walkout for some time, school officials really only saw backlash when the event became public on social media.

"It was discussed before that, but when it hit social media is when it started to take on different perspectives, let's say," Cloutier said.

Camden County Commissioner Jeff Nash wrote a letter to Cloutier this week, calling on him to cancel the walkout.

"I felt that the school should not endorse a walkout that would put students in fear, because they are, in essence, antisemitic protests," Nash said.

But students who supported the protest say that was never their intention.

"We have absolutely nothing against Judaism, we have absolutely nothing against Israel, we have absolutely nothing against anyone. We are simply respecting the people that were killed, innocent lives lost," Tavares said.

School officials credited students for coming up with the change to a peace rally, now tentatively scheduled for May 20 during students' lunch hour. Nash said he was pleased to hear of the change.

"That is a meaningful walkout. That is a meaningful coming together," Nash said.

But some students who backed the walkout say they'll move forward as planned on Friday.

"We're going to walk out," Tavares said. "I expect consequences to happen, but I fully am OK with it."

Cloutier says even though the walkout has been officially canceled because it became so public online, the district will have additional police personnel around campus on Friday.

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