Los Angeles Times

Friday, June 12, 1998

500 Students March Against Prop. 227
Rallies: Youths walk out of classes at three high schools for demonstrations.
By JAMES RAINEY, Times Staff Writer

More than 500 students from at least three Los Angeles high schools walked out of classes Thursday, with most converging downtown to protest passage of Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual education measure overwhelmingly approved by voters June 2.
      The largest yet in a series of protests against the measure had dispersed by midafternoon, after chanting students marched to City Hall and a series of other government buildings.
      A few streets in the Civic Center were briefly closed and about two dozen police officers in riot helmets stood by, but there were no arrests.
      The walkouts came as a federal judge set July 15 as the date he will hear oral arguments in the legal challenge to Proposition 227. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other opponents will ask Judge Charles A. Legge to block implementation of the initiative, arguing that its 60-day grace period does not allow school districts time to overhaul their instructional programs.
      Thursday's marches--mostly by Latino students from Belmont and Roosevelt high schools--were designed to present a unified front of "Brown Pride" against the initiative. The majority of students adhered peacefully to that theme, but a scuffle between rival cliques from the two high schools briefly marred the protest.
      With the end of the school year approaching, several student leaders said the walkouts will continue, although they offered no specifics.
      Fernando Alberto, an 18-year-old senior at Roosevelt, said the ballot measure's requirement that current students make a one-year transition to classes taught only in English is unrealistic.
      Alberto said that after he emigrated from Honduras, it took him two years in bilingual classes to learn English. He has now progressed to an Advanced Placement English class and is on his way to Santa Monica College.
      "I don't know where I would be if I didn't have those classes," he said. "It's ridiculous for them to think everyone is going to make it in just one year."
      The demonstration was planned earlier in the week, with fliers distributed at Belmont, Roosevelt and Wilson high schools calling for a unified protest in front of the downtown federal building.
      Although few Wilson High students attended, about 200 pupils each from Belmont, west of downtown, and Roosevelt, on the Eastside, converged on the federal building on Los Angeles Street. They chanted spiritedly for a bank of television cameras, despite a light rain that left sweatshirts soggy and placards smeared.
      "Justice now!" the teenagers screamed, and "La raza unida, jamas sera vencida!" (The people united will never be defeated!)
      "What if the governor moved to China?" asked Belmont High student Jesse Anguiano. "How would he feel if he had to learn Chinese in one year and then heard nothing but Chinese?"
      After delivering their message, the students seemed unsure what to do. They walked to the steps of the federal courthouse. After more chanting, a few boys began taunting and pushing one another, leading police to step in.
      A few other small skirmishes between students followed, leaving several of the protesters disheartened. "It's not supposed to be this way," said Ana Romo, 15, of Roosevelt High. "People are not going to listen to us and believe us if we are just fighting."
      The estimated 400 students slowly spread around downtown and eventually were ferried back to their campuses in school buses.
      Earlier in the day, about 100 students from Washington Preparatory High School in southwest Los Angeles also walked off campus. The students gathered in Jesse Owens Park before all but about 30 returned to campus.
      In staging the protest, the students ignored the pleas of school district Supt. Ruben Zacarias, who said a day earlier that students could accomplish more by studying hard and registering to vote.
      A spokeswoman for the Mexican American legal fund also urged students to stay in school. A pro-Proposition 227 leader accused "union lobbies" of inciting the students, saying they had been misinformed about how English immersion classes will work.
Times staff writers Richard Colvin and Jocelyn Y. Stewart contributed to this story.