With new U.S. law, NJ high schoolers achieve the impossible
HIGHTSTOWN — Government and politics were replaced by donuts and cupcakes in Mr. Wexler's second-period class Wednesday morning.
He and his students, some of whom had already graduated but were invited back for the festivities, were celebrating a new U.S. law signed by President Donald Trump the night prior — reportedly the first ever national law drafted by a high school class.
Their high school class.
"When I started it, I probably put the odds at 10,000-to-1, just knowing legislative process in general," Wexler told New Jersey 101.5. "At various times during the process, we were dejected to some extent, but we never gave up."
The process dates back to the 2015-2016 academic year. Each year since, students in Wexler's Advanced Placement class have helped advocate for the bill. Even those who eventually went off to college, like 2016 graduate Jay Vaingankar, would continue to take trips to the nation's capital and edit the proposed law.
"Never did I think four years ago that four years later we would be sitting in the Senate gallery, watching a sitting senator praise a bill that we wrote ourselves," Vaingankar said.
Three days after receiving unanimous approval in the Senate, their bill sailed through the House of Representatives on Dec. 21. With just hours to spare before the bill would die, Trump signed the bill into law on Jan. 8.
"Utilizing social media really helped us in the final stretch," said Oslene Johnson, class of 2017.
Their law, the Cold Case Act, creates an independent review board meant to facilitate the release of cold case records from the Civil Rights era. The current process of getting those records released, Hightstown students say, is a difficult one.
"And then once you get those records, a lot of times they're very heavily redacted, just because it's much easier to redact things than do research into who the people are that are named, whether or not they're alive, whether or not they're okay with their information being released," said 2017 graduate Maya Reddy.
"What this bill would do is it would release all the leads and all the information [...] so private investigators can take this up, investigative journalists can take this up, even students can take this up, and they themselves can find the answers to what happened to these victims," added 2018 graduate Ali Husaini.
Crimes from 50 to 60 years ago, students said, aren't a top priority for the Department of Justice.
The students crafted the bill after being exposed to the stories of more than 100 civil rights-era victims whose cases had been reopened by the government in 2008, but then closed again in 2015 — all without a resolution.