Los Angeles Times

Saturday, June 6, 1998

High School Students Protest at City Hall Over Prop. 227

A vocal group of 250 Belmont High School students left the classroom for a real-world experiment in political activism Friday afternoon, staging a spirited if short-lived protest against Proposition 227 at the foot of City Hall.
      The students, angered by the initiative's success at the polls and excited by the chance to ditch class, left Belmont about noon and made their way downtown, drawing police escorts, news helicopters and politicians along the way.
      "At least they're paying attention to us now," said Gloria Aguirre, smiling as students around her chanted slogans.
      For most of the protesting students, bilingual education was their path to learning English. When a group of 12 was asked how many had grown up with bilingual education, all but one raised their hands.
      "This isn't fair. My mom doesn't speak English; my little brothers won't learn it now," said Manuel Valdivia, 15, a bilingual education student.
      With police forming a ring around the protesters, 10th-grader Aguirre argued that vocal public protest was the only way for students to be heard in the debate over the controversial teaching method.
      "They're non-voters, and they haven't had their views heard. It's an emotional issue for them," said Victoria Castro, the Los Angeles Unified School District board member who represents Belmont's neighborhood.
      "Many of these students are products of bilingual education."
      Administrators heard rumors Friday morning that the protest was going to occur, Castro said. Students left the campus just west of downtown after a fire alarm--the agreed-upon signal--went off.
      The demonstration remained peaceful, but police handcuffed and took away three girls whom they said were agitating the crowd. The girls were not arrested.       "They will be taken to school and dealt with there by school police," said LAPD Sgt. Joe Sanders.
      Once the girls were detained, the protest lost some of its energy, and demonstrators began walking back to school in police-designated groups of five.