“While I understand the authority and purpose of the school’s administration and its actions, I think the right to protest is essential to avoid tyranny,” Faith Jackson said in an e-mail to community leaders. “I, of course, have to hear both sides of the story, but I think that sometimes extreme measures are necessary to prove a point.”
The school hosted a forum Monday evening to discuss the walkout and the principal’s response.
“They said they were concerned about riots and people’s health and safety,” Mitiuriev said. “This wasn’t Occupy London. It’s not Egypt, where people are throwing rocks at the military.”
Students said school officials used police to deter them from leaving the school. Batenga said there were more officers at the school because the school resource officer was conducting a training that day. No officers were inside the building at the time set for the walkout, he said.
Northwestern High, with its big campus in Hyattsville not far from the University of Maryland, has a long history of activism. Student groups have backed the state Dream Act, legislation that grants in-state tuition discounts to illegal immigrants, and have spoken out against teen dating violence. Last year, students and community leaders staged a counterprotest to a rally by Westboro Baptist Church members.
Occupy Education — a coalition of Occupy, labor and community groups — designated March 1 as the National Student Day of Action. Students across the country tailored their demonstrations to address specific issues affecting their schools.
“I just hope that in the future, there is positive communication about educational issues with students and the administration, not just here, but across the country,” said James, a gangly junior who has maintained a 4.5 weighted grade-point average over the past two semesters.
James, who has an internship at the University of Maryland, has participated in Occupy protests and helped organize the counterprotest against Westboro last year, he said. During a recent ceremony to salute honor roll students and those with high attendance records, James was applauded for his academics, leadership and activism. Now, he is hoping that he and his friends can put the suspension behind them. “I don’t like that my friends were unfairly punished,” he said.
And even though the protest did not happen as planned, he said, “Project Fail” — which is what some students are now calling the walkout — achieved what it set out to do. “The goal of the walkout was to politicize the community and to start a dialogue,” he said. “I think it was a success. The community is engaged, not just about the response, but about the issues that we brought up.”