Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, June 9, 1998

Oxnard Students Leave Class for 2nd Day in 227 Protest
Bilingual education: Youths from Rio Mesa High march six miles to downtown park. Five are suspended at Channel Islands High.
By JENNIFER HAMM, Times Staff Writer

OXNARD--For the second school day in a row, Oxnard-area students walked off campus Monday to protest last week's passage of a ballot measure aimed at dismantling bilingual education.
      About 135 students, mostly from Rio Mesa High School, left class and marched about six miles to Plaza Park in downtown Oxnard, waving signs and chanting slogans blasting Proposition 227.
      The demonstration was mostly peaceful except for an incident in which baton-wielding police officers briefly confronted dozens of students jumping from a school bus waiting to take them to the old Oxnard High School.
      Students initially boarded the bus at Plaza Park but bolted out the emergency exit when they decided to walk to the high school instead. Officers immediately moved in to keep the youngsters out of traffic and guide them back into the park.
      "I'm protesting because it's just racist," Rio Mesa sophomore Erica Perez said. "Taking bilingual education out of schools just isn't right. We're protesting to get our rights back."
      Monday marked the second day of protests for Oxnard-area students.
      About 60 students at Channel Islands High School walked out Friday in a similar protest against the measure. Rio Mesa students remained on campus Friday, but about 250 youngsters participated in a rally in the school cafeteria. And at Hueneme High School, 70 students protested on campus.
      Oxnard Union High School District Supt. Bill Studt said students who walked off campus are considered truant and face a range of disciplinary measures.
      Most will be required to make up the day at a four-hour Saturday school session. But some could be suspended if they have a history of cutting class, Studt said.
      Seniors will not be excluded from upcoming graduation ceremonies just for participating in the protest, although there were rumors to the contrary.
      "We're not going to treat them differently than any other student," Studt said. "They are truants. They'll be treated like any other kid who cuts class."
Protesters walked out around 8 a.m. Monday and marched for about two hours to Plaza Park, where they were joined by a handful of students from Oxnard and Channel Islands high schools.
      Some said they were protesting the ballot measure's passage, which has prompted campus walkouts throughout Southern California, because they worry that their siblings and other relatives will suffer without bilingual programs.
      At the downtown park, students cheered speaker Michael Rodriguez, an attorney with the Mexican American Bar Assn., who asked the students to take action.
      "We need to tell [elected officials] what to do and we need to do it in a positive and constructive way," Rodriguez told the youngsters.
      Rodriguez and representatives from El Concilio del Condado de Ventura were on hand to help maintain order and ensure that the students' civil rights were not violated.
      "There are a lot of people that are upset about the passing of 227, and we don't know what the outcome is," said Francisco Dominguez, executive director of the Latino advocacy group and a member of the Oxnard elementary school board. "But there's got to be a venue [for discussion]."
      Police and district officials, who had heard about the planned protest over the weekend, initially tried to get students to board buses headed for the old Oxnard High School. When that didn't work, students walked to the school.    Police were there to make sure protesters stayed on the sidewalk.
      Students dismissed speculation that they protested just to miss class.
      "I don't think anybody is going to walk all this way for nothing--my feet are killing me," said Rio Mesa freshman Denise Alvarado, who walked without shoes from the park to the old high school.
      Once there, officials tried to herd the students into the gym but most remained outside. Soon after, student leader Carlos Torres told fellow demonstrators that the protest was finished.
      Students slowly began to disperse, some hobbling away on blistered feet.
Studt said many of those who participated in Monday's demonstration knew nothing about Proposition 227. And those who felt deeply about the issue and compelled to protest should have done so on campus, he said.
      "If they have that point of view, there are appropriate places for those kinds of protests," Studt said. "But they should be in their classrooms getting prepared for final exams."
      Few seemed concerned with the consequences.
      "We're going to go back to school tomorrow, and if we get suspended, oh well," sophomore Maria Fuentes said. "Hopefully, they heard us."
      Most of Oxnard's other high school campuses remained quiet throughout the day.
      At Channel Islands High School, however, five students were suspended Monday for defying authority after trying to coax other students to walk off campus in opposition to Proposition 227, Principal Jim Nielsen said.
      "We will do whatever we need to do to make sure we have a safe environment here," Nielsen said.
      Across Ventura County, administrators at Santa Paula and Fillmore high schools said there were no disruptions Monday.
      "We've had discussion about it, the pros and the cons," said Paul Martinsen, assistant principal at Fillmore High. "But I didn't sense any anger at all."
      Nielsen said he would welcome discussion about the ballot measure in an after-school forum but said no students have approached him about such an event.
      "If kids really want to talk about issues, that's the time to do it," he said.
Torres said the MEChA Club at his school held one small demonstration before last week's election but didn't have the support to do more.
      Although he is not sure what school district officials can do now that the proposition has passed, Torres hopes they take some action.
      In the meantime, Torres said he and other students will continue to protest Proposition 227, although no more walkouts are planned.
      "We'll continue until we see a change," he said.