Times Promotes NJ Student Walkout As 'Silent Call to Arms'

Reporter Winnie Hu continues to push against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's fight against the teachers' unions: The protest offered "a real-life civics lesson that unfolded on lawns, sidewalks, parking lots and football fields."
Metro reporter Winnie Hu seems to be on a one-person crusade to pump up opposition against Republican Gov. Chris Christie's fight against expensive and unreformed teachers unions in New Jersey. On Wednesday she profiled a student walkout, which of course was not at all motivated by getting out of class: "In New Jersey, a Civics Lesson in the Internet Age - Students, Inspired by a Facebook Message, Rally Against School Budget Cuts."

It was a silent call to arms: an easy-to-overlook message urging New Jersey students to take a stand against the budget cuts that threaten class sizes and choices as well as after-school activities. But some 18,000 students accepted the invitation posted last month on Facebook, the social media site better known for publicizing parties and sporting events. And on Tuesday many of them - and many others - walked out of class in one of the largest grass-roots demonstrations to hit New Jersey in years.

The protest disrupted classroom routines and standardized testing in some of the state's biggest and best-known school districts, offering a real-life civics lesson that unfolded on lawns, sidewalks, parking lots and football fields.

The mass walkouts were inspired by Michelle Ryan Lauto, an 18-year-old aspiring actress and a college freshman, and came a week after voters rejected 58 percent of school district budgets put to a vote across the state (not all districts have a direct budget vote).

Lauto has kept herself busy, if not necessarily with studying:

Ms. Lauto, enrolled at Pace University, said she has always had an activist streak. In seventh grade, she tried - but failed - to organize a protest over a new dress code, and after President George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, she wrote "Going to Canada, Be Back in 4 Years" on a T-shirt and wore it to class.

Hu quoted the governor's office saying students belonged in the classroom, but made no mention of the conservative argument for the budget trims that George Will relayed in a recent column:

Partly to pay for teachers' benefits (most contribute nothing to their health insurance) property taxes have risen 70 percent in 10 years, to an average annual cost to homeowners of $7,281. Christie proposes a 2.5 percent cap on annual hikes.

Challenging teachers unions to live up to their cloying "it's really about the kids" rhetoric, he has told them to choose between a pay freeze and job cuts. Validating his criticism by their response to it, some Bergen County teachers encouraged students to cut classes to protest his policies, and a Bridgewater high-school teacher showed students a union-made video critical of him.

Christie notes that the $550,000 salary of the teachers union executive director is larger than the total cuts proposed for 190 of the state's 605 school districts.