Northgate students rally for popular former employee

Caption: Seniors at Northgate High School share their support for former Northgate employee Mark Mooney at a March 11 rally.

Viincent Tanforan, Northgate High School

Caption: Seniors at Northgate High School share their support for former Northgate employee Mark Mooney at a March 11 rally.

Vincent Tanforan and Gabriella Toranski, Northgate High School

Northgate High became the scene of a student protest Friday, March 11, after students learned of and then rallied against the unexpected exit of campus supervisor Mark Mooney.

Students, many wearing self-designed white T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Free Mark,” began the demonstration with a speech. A crowd estimated at about 200 students formed around the organizers as the center turned into a stage for students to voice their concerns. 

The booming cry of “Free Mark” echoed among the students who gathered in front of the school, drowning out the bell calling them  to class after the morning break. Even a second bell was not enough to stop the dedicated students from asserting their right to free speech.

Following the spread of news regarding Mooney’s impending departure, students took to planning a creative means of shedding light on the event. The Instagram account @justice4mark, which started posting on March 10, quickly racked up more than 400 followers.

Students took matters a step further with the creation of a petition titled “Save Mark.” It gained 659 signatures as of March 16 from sympathetic students. The petition’s creator, Northgate sophomore Ephrem Goh, said he started it to support the efforts of the Instagram account. 

Goh expressed surprise at how popular the petition and movement became: “I thought it would’ve been me and a few of my friends signing it, and it wouldn’t get anywhere.” 

There were no official statements by school or district officials, leaving students to try to piece together the story for themselves. Rumors began swirling on Friday morning. One thing was certain — Mooney would be leaving the school — but that seemed to be the only fact amid a sea of assumptions. 

“I heard he was being fired because of a TikTok that someone posted with him where students were vaping in the background,” explained freshman Mars Leto. 

“I found out through a teacher, and was told he got fired after a social media post. I also heard through another teacher, however, that he was scheduled to leave after six  months. I think most people heard the social media story, which is why there was so much confusion as no one felt it was a fair punishment,” said another student.

The TikTok explanation was popular among students, although Principal Kelly Cooper denied having knowledge of the video prior to the student outcry.

“I have only recently heard of this alleged TikTok, I have not seen it, and that is not something I was even aware of before these protests,” Cooper said in an email reply to the school’s paper, the Northgate Sentinel, a few days after the rally. “If such a video exists, with any staff member … I would then deal with the students, not the staff member featured unaware.” 

She said she could not speak to any details on the issue, but that she supported students expressing their views.  “While I applaud and am proud of students for using their voices, I do urge them to learn whether or not a claim is true before jumping onto a cause,” Cooper said.

Despite the statement, some students weren’t ready to let the issue of Mooney’s dismissal fade away. 

“Ms. Cooper has already told me that [the TikTok rumor] isn’t true, but the timing was too perfect for it not to have an effect,” said Ephrem Goh.

One question remains: why did Mooney’s dismissal become a raging issue among students? 

Some students point to Mooney’s kindhearted nature, something they consider rare among the staff. 

“In the lunch lines, people like to cut me, so he would just be like, ‘Hey stop that!’ and he would actually stop people who were cutting,” remarked junior Mary Kate Bigornia, reminiscing on the moments that stood out to her most. “[The other supervisors] just turn a blind eye. He was down for justice,” she continued. “And he also likes to ask us about personal stuff. He’s like, ‘Oh, how’s that team going? How’s lacrosse, how’s soccer?’ ” 

Northgate students gather on March 11 before a student rally in support of former employee Mark Mooney begins. (Vincent Tanforan, Northgate High School)

For the students who got to know Mooney, he helped to bring the school together. 

“Mark was unique in that all types of students loved him and the energy he would bring on campus, I never heard anyone say anything negative about him,” said one senior, who asked that his name be withheld. “​​People were really bothered by the story that they heard and realized how unjust it was if it was true. He uplifted the spirits of our campus, and I think the rallies demonstrated the magnitude of his impact on students.”

Cooper, too, said she found Mooney to be important in the lives of students. “Mark had a positive impact on this campus, and for many students was a daily check-in, a daily smile, or a daily dose of positivity,” she said. “It is clear from the protests that he will be missed, and we look forward to hearing about his next adventure.”

Despite students’ best efforts, Mooney’s last day at Northgate was March 11.

Students may never get the definitive answers they sought, and yet the effects of the protests went beyond students’ original intentions. It inadvertently brought the large, and often disconnected, student body together. 

The movement was short lived, only a brief splash of color on the monotonous canvas of high school life. Trends come and go throughout Northgate’s halls as quickly as students rushing to class; the dissipating attention toward the cause seems to prove that “Free Mark” is the next in a line of forgotten fads. 

However, the campaign barely resembled the pattern of an average trend, with a legacy greater than can be seen at first glance. It left behind the indispensable lesson of how to turn ideas into actions and hopes into demands, long after the chants died down.