2,000 cut school for education

Bay Area students surprise Concord with march and rally in support of better schools, affirmative action, bilingual education

CONCORD — Using an extensive network of student club leaders, leafleting and word-of-mouth, a Bay Area political youth group managed to pull together about 2,000 students from across the region for a march through downtown Concord on Wednesday.

The peaceful demonstration, which focused on a host of education issues, blocked traffic at major intersections and forced police to add extra officers.

The walkout, organized by Voices of Struggle, a group of Bay Area junior high, high school and college students, took months to organize, protest leaders said.

The group, an offshoot of the Chicana Moratorium Coalition in Oakland,
met weekly in different cities to make the walkout a reality. Voices of Struggle members took word of the walkout back to their respective schools,
spreading the news through on-campus youth political groups and fliers.

C-Beyond, a Concord-based youth group, caught wind of the effort and helped to organize 1,000 students from Concord High, Mt. Diablo High, El Dorado Middle and Olympic High schools.

The effort paid off.

“I was expecting something really flaky,” said Olympic High School senior Cheryl Gloster. “I’m amazed we have this many people.”

At about 10 a.m., hundreds of students from Concord, Pittsburg, Richmond,
Hayward, San Leandro, Oakland, South San Francisco and Daly City began emerging from BART trains and buses.

The march, which started at the Concord BART station, wound its way through Grant Street, past Mt. Diablo High School, before turning around on East Street toward Galindo Street. The protest ended with a rally at a grassy lot across the street from the Concord Police Department.

Gabriel Hernandez, a march organizer, said Concord was chosen because the new police station made a strong visual point.

“The whole idea is to send a message ? To put a Concord police station like that, your schools should look like that,” he said of the $18.4 million building, which opened in 1996.

Many students said they walked out to protest Proposition 227, a June ballot initiative that would eliminate bilingual education in schools and replace it with a one-year English immersion program. Others came to protest the poor condition of their schools and the end of state affirmative action programs.

“I think this is a good opportunity for people of different races and colors to come together,” said Pittsburg High freshman Jade Shepherd.
“Giving students only a year to learn English is wrong. People learn at different speeds.”

The walkout frustrated school officials, who said students would be marked as absent, but one school official sympathized with the students’ cause.

“Although they might legislate us to stop (bilingual education),
our school is so in need we would somehow have to provide opportunities for kids to learn English. We’re very sympathetic to the need,” said Principal Allen Sinor of Jefferson High School in Daly City, where about 200 of 1,470 students walked out.

Police officers temporarily closed off several major intersections. Some motorists honked in support, others fumed in their cars waiting for the three-block procession to go by.

Angela Moore, a senior at Mt. Diablo High School, who watched as her classmates marched by, said she supports their pro-education causes but said leaving school defeated the purpose.

“Half the people don’t know what they’re walking out for,”
she said. “They should have done it on a nonschool day.”

The students’ plans caught local police officials by surprise, said Concord police Lt. Jim Alcorn, who learned of the march Wednesday morning. He said he could not recall a rally that size descending on the town before.

About 90 officers from several neighboring departments were mobilized to ensure the surprise rally wouldn’t turn into a law enforcement crisis.
Many of the Concord officers were called in early or reassigned from the investigations bureau to help out.

“Overall, from the number of participants, it went real well,”
Alcorn said as the students departed at 1:30 p.m.

There were no arrests. One traffic citation, however, was issued to Julia Martinez earlier in the day. The Bay Point woman was leaving a coffee shop when she saw a group of marchers leaving Todos Santos Plaza to rendezvous at the BART station with the others.

“So I honked in support. My daughter is involved,” Martinez said. “I believe in the cause.”

A motorcycle officer pulled her over.

“Excessive, improper use of horn,” he wrote on her traffic ticket, which Martinez said she would contest.

Staff writers Andrea Lampros, Truong Phuoc Khanh and Tim Tyler contributed to this story.

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