More than 600 Northern Virginia high school students walked out of class Friday afternoon to show solidarity with immigrants at a time of intense national debate over President Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigration.
Demonstrations of 50 students or more were reported in five Loudoun County schools, a school system spokesman said. The largest, with about 200 protesters, was at Rock Ridge, with others at Potomac Falls, Briar Woods, Broad Run and Loudoun Valley.
At Broad Run, about 70 students walked out for about 15 minutes, some bearing signs. “I’m skipping history to make it,” one read.
One student carried the flag of Mexico, another the U.S. flag. The students sat on the curb in front of the school in the bitter cold and then stood to face the flag in front of the school, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Rida Ali, 16, a junior who helped organize the demonstrations, told the shivering group that she assembled them not to protest or make a political statement but because “it’s time to come together to outline the importance of diversity and immigration in our country.”
“Immigrants are your teachers, your principals, your best friends, your government officials, your doctors, your neighbors,” she said. Facing a diverse crowd, she said: “This is what Broad Run looks like. This is what America looks like.”
Syed Hashain, 18, a senior born in Pakistan, said he wanted to push back against anti-immigrant sentiment.
“It’s all about love and embracing people who don’t look like you,” Hashain said.
The event drew a few community members who voiced support from the sidewalk. It also drew a counterprotester: Vinnie Sack, 18, a senior and the student body president.
Sack, who did not have classes in the afternoon, returned to school wearing a “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hat and a Trump-Pence T-shirt. He carried a sign that said: “RESPECT OUR PRESIDENT GO BACK TO SCHOOL.”
Ali said Loudoun students were responding to Trump’s executive order barring refugees and people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. The order, which has been frozen by a court challenge, included Yemen, which is home to her mother’s family.
Ali said she and her mother, Rubina Ali, have volunteered for refugee causes, and the mosque they attend in Maryland is preparing to host a refugee family from Syria.
“When you look around in your classrooms, there’s so many people coming from so many different places,” Rida said in an interview. “Without immigration, everybody would be gone, unless you’re Native American.”
The Loudoun students joined young people from across the country who have walked out of high schools and organized protests in recent months. For students who are too young to vote, demonstrations have been one way to take a stand. After Trump’s election, students from high schools in Maryland and the District walked out.
School officials, who prepared in advance for walkouts at as many as seven high schools, warned students that they could face discipline for participating.
“Activities that disrupt instruction are against School Board policy regardless of the cause or viewpoint of those taking part,” the school system wrote in an announcement posted on its website. “Principals have met with students planning the walkout and have developed plans to ensure safety procedures are followed if students leave the building. Principals also have let students know this would be treated as a disruption of the school day. The usual discipline involved with being tardy or skipping class would be applied to those taking part in a walkout.”
Ali, who said she has never been in trouble at school before, was not worried.
“I feel like trouble is worth it if it’s something good, if it’s something you believe in,” she said.