It is a gross day in the history of America when an eighth grader commits suicide after participating in a student walkout protesting anti-immigrant legislation. On March 30th Anthony Soltero, an organizer of his school’s walkout, shot himself in the head after De Anza Middle School threatened Soltero with a three year prison term, forbid his involvement in the graduation ceremonies, and threatened his mother with a fine.
Rallies began in response to House Res. 4437, which would penalize 11 million illegal immigrants as felons and allow the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. Across southern California alone, tens of thousands of students walked out of school to protest — to later face abuse from police and school officials.
Students walked out in hundreds of middle and high schools across the country, including the following cities: Charlotte, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Carson City, Houston, Washington DC, Denver, Boston, Albuquerque, Chicago (with up to 85% absence rate— yeah!), Providence, New York, and Portland, as well as several schools in Southern California, the Central Valley, and the Bay Area.
School districts and police continue to use collaborative efforts to threaten students protesting during schools hours with citations and possible incarceration.
The abuse of students skipping school needs to stop. Change rarely occurs when youth are behind their desks. From the Popular movement to the Civil Rights movement, youth have been at the leading edge of the struggle against injustice. The months of March and April found the streets crowded with young people from Detroit to Los Angeles.
Students who participate in walkouts should not be subject to any punishment different from the punishment normally used when students miss school. Students who leave school to attend an anti-war protest should receive no harsher punishment than students who leave to go to a Dodger baseball game, for example.
Why is it that a student’s absence is meeting with such a strong reaction from the authorities? Simply put, schools are training grounds for the workplace. In this way, students are essentially like workers, and so when they stage walkouts, they are in fact learning how to strike. This cannot be tolerated by a system that requires obedience from its workers.
Students engaged in walkouts and protests can check out the National Lawyers Guild pamphlet titled, “Your Rights to Demonstrate and Protest” for good information on how to defend themselves from school punishment.
Students engaging in demonstrations attend life’s greatest classroom. Students need more than reassurance when deciding to skip school to protest — they need support from the community if they face punishment. These students are searching for new professors. We must know and trust that they are our teachers.
Check out Natural Learning, a journal of the Olympia Free School and RiseOut, a weblog supportive of a young person’s choice to dropout of school. www.olympiafreeschool.org, riseoutcenter.wordpress.com