Local students join in May Day protest

By Jamie Hunt

Elementary, junior high and high school students participated in the May Day walkouts throughout Tulare County on May 1.

Known as the International Working Class Holiday, May 1 was chosen by organizers to symbolize the plight of immigrant workers in the United States. The student protests were part of a much larger economic boycott where more than 1 million people walked out of class and their jobs in what was dubbed a &#8220Day Without Immigrants.”

There were anywhere from 1,300 to 1,400 students out of 4,000 (more than a third) absent from Lindsay school district, according to Andrew Bukosky, Director, Human Resources and Administrative Services. About 800-850 students were absent from elementary schools, 250-300 at the junior high and 266 gone from the high school.

&#8220There has been an effort to educate the students about the issues in Lindsay,” he said. &#8220I think that kids look at the opportunity as a good way to take a day off of school, but many of the students don't know enough about the issues, but they also do not think how the absences will effect them a couple of years down the line when they are trying to graduate.”

Bukosky is referring to the required average 95% school attendance policy that the Lindsay school board adopted four years ago. Bukosky said that seniors especially, and other students will be adversely effected by opting not to attend school so close to graduation. Seniors who don't meet the attendance average will not be able to walk in the graduation ceremony.

At the elementary school level, Lindsay held activities to allow kids to protest on school grounds and teachers included the ideals of protest in their curriculum.

There were letter writing activities to contact congressmen and the legislators on the the junior high level, and the high schools had forums where students were allowed to speak their views, both pros and cons about the immigration bill. This was all supported by the Lindsay district office and the education board Bukosky said.

In the Farmersville School district, Superintendent Janet Jones said about a third of the students district-wide were absent from five Farmersville schools, a total of about 800 students from the district's 2,400 students. There were more students absent from the three elementary schools and high school than the junior high.

Becky Haley, Assistant principal at Strathmore High School said, &#8220We had a speaker on Friday, Robert Delarosa, from the United Community Committee, who spoke to the students about the necessity of coming to school. He encouraged the students to stay in school and to participate in the protest at 3:30 p.m. after school in Porterville.”

Strathmore High School had 20% more than normal absences for a Monday, according to Haley, or 45 students out of school all day. She said the school had informational packets available for students in the library, which included sample letters and names, addresses and e-mails for students to write their congressional representatives.

According to David Depaoli, Superintendent of Strathmore Union Elementary School district, about 250 students out of 750 were absent from the district. There were 216, or 30% absent from the elementary school as opposed to only 36 students or 12% from the middle school.

&#8220Education is the most important part of our lives,” Depaoli said. &#8220I talked to a parent on May 1 and told her, ‘My job is to make sure the kids are at school, and she understood what I was saying. All of our employees were here to work. It's our job to service our clients, and our clients are our students.”

Depaoli was surprised when he read that only 15% of students were expected to be absent from school. The absences in Tulare County were much higher he said, because he had talked to other superintendents.

According to Superintendent Rene Whitson, there were almost twice the usual amount of absences for a Monday at Exeter schools - about 185 students were absent from EUHS, whereas, the usual absence rate tripled at the elementary schools (about 100 to 130 students).

According to Whitson, Exeter Union High School student leaders and a leadership class provided a forum during lunch time for students to voice their opinions and learn more information about the immigration bill.

Superintendent Steve Tietjen, said there were over 820 students absent from Woodlake's three elementary schools and the high school on May 1, or over 30% of the student population. Normally, there is 95% attendance in Woodlake school districts.

&#8220We lost instructional time for the students at a critical point in the year, especially when they are getting ready for the California Standards tests, and for seniors, the Advance Placement tests that provide college credit,” he said &#8220Look at advance placement testing and look at the amount of credits lost by students, and you can see there is a personal financial cost for parents.”

According to Tietjen there were discussions about the immigration issue in classes at the high school and the associated student body leadership class with principal Tim Hire.

Tietjen said that in an earlier protest about 35 students decided to express their support of immigration issues on Saturday, April 1, by walking from Woodlake to the Visalia Courthouse, and that about five vehicles with parents accompanied them.

&#8220The staff at our schools are very understanding and have empathy for our kids whose parents are mostly immigrant farm laborers,” he said.

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