Education

This district in a liberal California city marked down the names of student protesters

'We all deserve to live long, abundant lives,' speaker says outside NRA office

Protesters stood on Capitol Mall across from the National Rifle Association's Sacramento office to call for reform and an end to gun violence on Wednesday as part of the national walkout led by students.
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Protesters stood on Capitol Mall across from the National Rifle Association's Sacramento office to call for reform and an end to gun violence on Wednesday as part of the national walkout led by students.

Students from Dixon to Roseville were among those nationwide who walked out of class Wednesday for 17 minutes in response to last month's student massacre in Parkland, Fla.

One local community you might have assumed would embrace the protest wrote down students' names and gave them unexcused absences.

School officials in Davis, a college town that's one of the state's most liberal cities, told students in advance they would get a mark on their attendance record if they chose to walk out Wednesday.

Some 400 students at Davis Senior High School and around 800 middle and elementary students did it anyway, said officials from Davis Joint Unified School District.

"It wasn’t school-planned," said Maria Clayton, a spokeswoman district. "It was a student-led walkout."

She said the district respected their First Amendment right, but added the expressing that right came with consequences. She said it wasn’t like a school pep rally.

"When we are taking about political activism, we have a responsibility to remain neutral."

Moments before the walkout was set to begin, Sacramento lobbyist Erin Niemela got texts from two of her kids enrolled in Davis schools.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Students gathered in front of the All Student Center after walking out of class. <a href="https://t.co/56wyfYGED7">pic.twitter.com/56wyfYGED7</a></p>&mdash; The HUB (@dhshub) <a href="https://twitter.com/dhshub/status/973976515783176193?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 14, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

While one from her elementary school student informed her students were “doing a walkout,” the one from her high school junior was asking for permission.

Niemela said her daughter had her full permission to leave class for 17 minutes.

"I am proud of our kids for opposing gun violence and I’m proud of our kids exercising their free speech rights," Niemela said.

Davis ranks 20th among California’s most liberal cities based on party registration. Niemela said that because student leaders informed school officials of the plan, the planned protest should have been treated more like an on-campus rally than a dangerous threat to student safety.

“It contradicts everything we’re teaching them. They are exercising their right to free speech. They are doing it in a peaceful way. It’s a textbook responsible exercise of free speech.”

Davis City Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson said her son was among those who heeded the school's warning.

"A vast number of his friends (and he) didn’t walk out because they didn’t want that 'ding' on their record," said Swanson, whose son is a sophomore at the high school.

She said she doesn't want encourage students to walk out frequently but was disappointed in the district's response. She said the nationally recognized event was worthy of student participation.

"I don’t want to throw stones," said Swanson, "but I think there were tools to accommodate our students that wanted to engage."

Davis Joint Union Trustee Madhavi Sunder said she disagreed with the application of an existing policy in this special circumstance.

"I’d like to see our school district embrace this opportunity," Sunder said. "This isn’t partisan. This is about how a democracy works."

While Sunder doesn’t want to see the district discouraging participation with sanctions, her daughter Anoushka Chander, the student president, at Holmes Junior High said students could benefit from protest in the face of adult opposition.

About 200 students walked out of Holmes for a series of protest activities concluding with a "die in" as the names of the 17 Parkland, Florida victims were read.

"It’s probably better for us to take the consequences for something we’re passionate about,” said Anoushka Chander.

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