Truckee students walk out in protest of immigration bill
Students from North Tahoe and Tahoe Truckee high schools joined thousands of students nationwide in protesting proposed federal restrictions on immigration by walking out of school Monday.At Truckee High, approximately 30 Hispanic students held a protest, which Vice Principal Grant Steunenberg said was impromptu and seemed to be poorly planned. All students who participated are considered truant and will all be serving consequences for their truancy, he said. Rogelio Espinoza, a junior at Truckee High, said he received a message on his cell phone Monday morning saying that Hispanics should not go to school. He said they decided to leave school instead of holding the demonstration after school because they thought more people would see them in the morning on their way to work. The students marched to Rite Aid to buy poster board and walked from the high school through downtown to the 7-Eleven at the corner of Brockway and Palisades, he said.The students were protesting a House bill passed in December that would criminalize undocumented workers and erect a 700-mile fence along the Mexican-American boarder. On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee re-worked the bill to include a guest worker program and agreed to strip out proposed criminal penalties for residents found to be here illegally.
Discussions at North Tahoe HighAdministrators at North Tahoe High School discouraged the students from missing class, but encouraged them to voice their concerns over the bill.Omar Gonzalez, a 17-year-old junior, led nearly 25 North Tahoe students from the high school parking lot in the morning into Tahoe City. They parked their cars at the 7-Eleven on Dollar Hill and then walked along North Lake Boulevard to Longs Drugs to make posters to bring back to school. They drew American flags and wrote sayings like We Are America and No More H.R. 4437. Gonzalez and other students interviewed at North Tahoe High identified themselves as Mexicans, and not Latinos or Mexican-American. Gonzalez, who said he became energized when he attended a Cesar Chavez rally Sunday in Sacramento, said he believed the bill is unfair and wanted to send a message to the school and the community that Mexicans are needed in America.Zuleima Ramirez, a sophomore, agreed.My whole family works cleaning houses. It would affect my family if this law passed, said 15-year-old Ramirez. They say that Mexicans are only hard workers and homemakers and thats not true. Although 40 students were committed to leave school Monday in protest, school officials convinced almost half to stay. North Tahoe Principal Bill Frey said he told the students they either had to leave school grounds or attend class, rather than hang out in the parking lot. Those who did miss class are considered truant and will be disciplined on a case-by-case basis, he said.A majority of students chose to come into school, Frey said. School policy is we need to run school. … I told them to think about what they do. I wasnt threatening, but I did point blank say you need to think about your actions. Were grateful for those who did stay.All but five students returned by lunch time, according to Assistant Principal Stephanie Welsh. The school will not lose money due to absent students because the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is a basic aid district, Welsh said.They are very concerned and activists in their own right, but they didnt want to miss school for it, Welsh said of the students who skipped the protest to stay in school. During lunch, Welsh held an impromptu meeting attended by more than 30 students, the school psychologist, a couple of teachers and the Tahoe World, the Sierra Suns sister paper in Tahoe City, to discuss other ways the students can be heard. Welsh said the schools resource and safety officer, Melinda Maylar, would help the students secure a county permit to hold a peaceful march in the streets. There was also discussion of holding a school assembly with speakers knowledgeable on immigration issues and writing letters to politicians.Culinary arts teacher Laura Hartung and Spanish teacher Kristina McCart told the students know that white people care about the immigration issue even though none of their white peers attended the meeting. Hartung encouraged the students to educate themselves and others about the issue. The students were also discouraged to attend a Mexican ditch day Tuesday that was being advertised with fliers around the school.Some students are just trying to ditch school, but some do know whats going on, said Student Liaison Csar Acosta, who works with Latino students at the middle school and high school. They have a lot of fear. If this law would pass their education would be endangered. …They are just voicing their concerns.Alexa Visco of the Boys & Girls Club in Kings Beach, who also attended the lunch meeting, said she invited the students to the club that afternoon to discuss the issues. Teachers has helped students understand how the U.S. government works and that a bill does not necessarily mean it will become law. Sierra Sun reporter Christine Stanley contributed to this report.
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