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
"We'll continue until we see a change,"