Students protest Prop. 227

Channel Islands High group lashes Unz initiative, may face suspension

Holding “No 227″ signs and Mexican and American flags, more than 75 Channel Islands High School students walked out of school Friday to protest the passage of the anti-bilingual education initiative.

The students, the majority of them former or current bilingual education students, said they do not want their school to implement Proposition 227. The state initiative overwhelmingly passed by voters Tuesday eliminates bilingual education.

They may be suspended for protesting and leaving school Friday.

Without bilingual education, students who don’t speak English will have problems learning in school or may just drop out, the students said. They also wanted others to know that bilingual education helps students succeed in school.

“I’m a product of bilingual education and I’m now in college-prep classes,” said Carmen Gamez, 15, a Channel Islands sophomore and a protest organizer. “I want to let them know it does work.”

Proposition 227 states that all children shall be taught in English, except in limited cases. Children who aren’t fluent in English would have about a year to learn the language.

A coalition of civil rights and community groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday to keep the initiative from being implemented. It’s set to take effect in less than 60 days.

One in four California schoolchildren has limited English skills. In the Oxnard Union High School District, the average is 29 percent.

Police and school officials told students before they left the campus that they would be suspended, said Oxnard police Sgt. Ron Whitney. But school officials declined to say after the protest whether the students would be suspended and for how long.

A handful of Hueneme High School Students also joined the protest near Plaza Park at Fifth and C streets, where the protest ended.

Principal Jim Nielsen said the school wants “to send a message this type of behavior is not acceptable, and there are other ways to voice their concern.

“This is not a good way because it disrupts our learning environment,” Nielsen said. “It’s our responsibility to maintain safety on our campus.”

The students left the campus shortly after 10 a.m. because the school’s principal took a 15-year-old male who was holding a protest sign into the office, they said. Students had planned to rally on campus during a class period, but left miffed after the principal allegedly told the student he would be suspended.

“They had to violate our rights,” said Luis Angel Marin, 15. He said students “felt bad” because the student holding the sign was exercising his right to freedom of speech.

Nielsen said the boy got up on an outdoor stage area with a sign, “trying to get people excited, and that’s when you start to get concerned about the students’ safety.”

Oxnard Union High School board member Art Hernandez showed up at Plaza Park to tell the students that although the school board voted against Proposition 227, the students’ actions must still be dealt with.

“It’s unfortunate that they felt the need to do this,” Hernandez said. “But they need to know all the rules and be aware of the consequences before something like this happens.”

But Michael Rodriguez, an attorney with the Ventura County Mexican American Bar Association, criticized the way the school handled the students’ opposition to the initiative.

“They could have prevented all of this instead of taking Draconian measures,” said Rodriguez. He added that Nielsen told him all the student protesters would be suspended.

Hueneme High School handled rumors about a student walkout by holding a forum Friday for students to express their views on the anti-bilingual education measure, Rodriguez said. About 300 students attended.

“If people are upset about a controversial issue, there should be a discussion for people to express how they feel,” Rodriguez said.

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