Hundreds of San Benito High School students ditched school
yesterday morning to participate in an impromptu walk-out
– days after thousands of people nationwide protested federal
legislation that could potentially make criminals of illegal
immigrants and those who help them – marching around the perimeter
of town for nearly two hours before returning to class.
Hollister – Hundreds of San Benito High School students ditched school yesterday morning to participate in an impromptu walk-out – days after thousands of people nationwide protested federal legislation that could potentially make criminals of illegal immigrants and those who help them – marching around the perimeter of town for nearly two hours before returning to class.
“It was hard to stop them or keep them back,” said SBHS teacher Juan Robledo, who followed the students to make sure they behaved. “And once the first ones crossed the street they got more momentum, more kids just kept joining them.”
The legislation, which the U.S. Senate began debating yesterday, has been a hot-topic on campus for a few days – a handful of about 50 students attempted to walk out yesterday. In response, SBHS administrators organized an open forum both Monday and yesterday for students and community members to discuss the issue, the importance of education and how students could best take action.
“The auditorium was pretty packed,” said Associated Student Body Spokesperson Stephanie James. “We had a dialogue going in both English and Spanish, and we wanted students to understand the issue and then write letters to their representatives.”
The event was apparently set in motion during the middle of the assembly when a female student stood up and declared in Spanish that no one would notice the students’ disapproval of the immigration bill, HR 4437, while they were in the high school auditorium, according to James.
“Everybody knew that students were walking out all over the state and got coverage in the media, and these students wanted the same thing,” said James.
Most of the students then got up and left the auditorium, leaving only about 50 students remaining at the assembly. Other students who did not attend the forum left the campus to join in the demonstration, and ultimately around 200 students participated.
“We were just worried that somebody would be hit by a car,” said Robledo.
Students marched up and down San Benito Street, some waving Mexican and American flags, and also marched by other local schools, encouraging more students to join them.
“They were just kids having a good time,” said Sheila Stevens, owner of She’s Boutique downtown. “If I were their age I probably would have joined them.”
Two of SBHS’ three assistant principals and four police cars followed the students, in order to ensure the safety of the protesting students and taking pictures to identify them later.
Students did not return to school until after the lunch period finished at 1pm. SBHS considers the protest truancy, and those who participated will probably face detention.
“A lot of kids were surprised when they found out they would be punished,” said Robledo. “I told them ‘Even Martin Luther King went to jail. So did Caesar Chavez. If you’re going to protest something, you better be willing to pay the price. That’s what America’s all about.'”
SBHS plans to distribute detentions by sifting through photographs taken throughout the protest to identify which students left the campus.
“Those students who made the decision to leave have consequences to face,” said Asst. Principal Krystal Lomanto. “The Ed. Code is pretty strict about that kind of thing.”
Despite the fairly dramatic display, many students and educators believe the protesters were more concerned with leaving school for a few hours that migrants’ rights.
“Sadly, I think 90 percent of those kids had no idea what they were protesting over,” said James. “If they really knew what the issues were about, they would have wanted to stay and learn how they can help. Because really, Senator Dianne Feinstein doesn’t know that 300 kids walked out of San Benito, and even if she did, she wouldn’t know what they think.”
“I had an opportunity to speak with some of the students who protested,” said SBHS Superintendent Jean Burns Slater. “A lot of them had no clue why they were marching, others had a really firm grasp on the issue. So there was a really mixed group.”
According to Slater, an open call on the online teen social network MySpace went out, encouraging students all over the country to walk out at 11am.
Rumors are floating among the student body that walk-outs will continue every day at around 11am until the legislation is voted on. While Slater says she does not anticipate any further problems, especially since students have shortened classes today, the school is prepared for another walk-out and is working with local police.
“Every day is different,” she said. “But it’s not as much fun to excuse yourself from class if you’ve already been excused.”
SBHS is providing contact information for students interested in writing letters to their representatives, and will be putting a link to the Senate’s web site on the school web page for students interested in learning more about the proposed legislation. Students and community members writing letters regarding the legislation can drop them off at SBHS before Monday, and the school will pay postage.
Hollister teens aren’t the only ones upset over the issue. On Sunday, about 30 people gathered on the corner of Fourth and San Benito Streets to speak out against the legislation, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in December. Five Gilroy High students were arrested yesterday in the middle of a walk-out 100 students strong. On Monday at least 50 Anzar High School students walked out of class to rally against the legislation. The Anzar protest, however, was fully supported by teachers and staff.
Danielle Smith covers education for the Free Lance. Reach her at 637- 5566, ext. 336 or [email protected]