Students protest Proposition 227

135 from Rio Mesa High march to downtown Oxnard

About 135 Rio Mesa High School students marched off campus to downtown Oxnard Monday morning to protest the passage of Proposition 227, which essentially dismantles bilingual education in California.

The protest came three days after a group of Channel Islands High School students walked out over the initiative, approved by 61 percent of voters last week.

Both schools belong to the Oxnard Union High School District, where 29 percent of students are learning English, and most of them speak Spanish.

“What about all these people who come from other countries and don’t know English. What are they going to do? We’re doing this for the good of our country. We’re doing this for our children,” said Rio Mesa junior Griselda Arguelles. Like many protesters, Arguelles said she’s a product of bilingual education and doesn’t want it banished.

Proposition 227 says all children must be taught in English, but waivers will be granted in some cases. Some civic groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the initiative, saying it violates civil rights of limited-English students.

The Rio Mesa students left campus Monday just before 8 a.m., when school started. Police cars alongside, they went down Vineyard Avenue, across Highway 101 and through a residential area to Plaza Park. Some students carried signs. Others waved Mexican and American flags.

Upon reaching the park, many students seemed unsure what to do next. Some tried to continue toward Channel Islands High, but police convinced them to turn back. One student climbed atop a gazebo, unfurled a Mexican flag and held up a “No on 227″ sign as classmates cheered.

The disorganized protest had some people wondering, why did students wait until after the election to speak out?

Michael Rodriguez, a lawyer with the Ventura County Mexican American Bar Association, said students could have influenced voters if they’d spoken out before June 2. He urged them to get involved in future elections, register to vote and stay in school.

Some students said they don’t know why they waited to protest. Others said they worry about younger siblings who are in bilingual programs.

Administrators decided not to let the students return to campus and sent buses to take them to the old Oxnard High School, where they could call parents. But after some students jumped out the windows and emergency exit of one parked bus, district officials sent the buses away.

The students walked down Fifth Avenue to the old Oxnard High School, where students lingered until about noon before dispersing.

Police and school officials reported no violence or injuries in the four-hour protest.

Superintendent Bill Studt said he was disappointed by the students’ actions. “They need to stay on campus where it’s safe,” said Studt, who watched the protest with several district officials.

Like their Channel Islands counterparts, Rio Mesa students who left campus will be punished, school officials said. At the minimum, they’ll have detention on a Saturday. Habitual school-skippers face more severe penalties, including suspension.

Seniors who don’t complete their penalties won’t be allowed to go through their graduation ceremonies June 26, Rio Mesa Principal Barry Barowitz said.

Students said a walkout planned for Friday was canceled because they weren’t organized. Hearing about the walkout, administrators held a forum on campus Friday for students to voice their concerns about Proposition 227.

Some students said they still wanted to take their message to the streets. “We’re going to do what we have to do, and they’re going to hear us,” sophomore Maria Fuentes said.

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