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Apr-17-2006 01:58printcomments

Political Firestorm Brewing Over Student Anti-Immigration Reform Protests

State Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo`s statement on the student protests has Republican legislators mad, and they now want to stop a special $42 Million allocation for kids and schools announced earlier this week.

Strong feelings on the Oregon capitol steps
Photo By: Tim King

(SALEM) - Hundreds of Portland-area students held a walkout and protest rally on Friday in downtown Portland.

On Thursday, an estimated 700 high and middle school students from Woodburn, Gervais, and Silverton protested along Highway 214 near I-5 before rallying in a parking lot. In Salem, an estimated one thousand high and middle school students protested on the steps of the Oregon State on Monday.

Molalla and Albany students also held a protest this week. The students say they are holding these demonstrations because they are opposed to House Bill 4437. If passed, the law would criminalize illegal immigrants and those who assist them.

Police say the protesters were peaceful at all of the events, and no arrests were made.

Unlike most Salem-Keizer students who left campus to attend their rally, Woodburn and Portland School District officials say most of their students had signed permission slips or were excused by their parents to attend their protest. Hundreds of Salem-Keizer students are facing either detention or in-school suspension because they participated in the rally unexcused.

Students tell that they are OK with the district`s stand on the truancy issue.

They said they were well aware of the consequences before they left school grounds, and they accept the punishment because they were able to get their message out to the community and legislators that they deeply oppose federal and state immigration reform.

State Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo released the following statement on Friday regarding the student immigration rights protests.

"This week has seen a number of student marches in support of the rights of immigrants � in Portland, Salem, Woodburn and other Oregon communities. Let me first say that I am proud of the middle school and high school students who are exercising their first amendment right of free speech. I join them in support of the rights of hard-working immigrants and their families in Oregon. America has a long history of civil disobedience under leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez. While they were strong advocates for change, those leaders also put a great deal of importance on education.

State law requires students to be in class during the school day, unless the student is excused for illness, family emergency, or other reasons where arrangements have been made in advance. I have been assured that school districts are following state law and their local policies by giving unexcused absences to students who skip class to attend these marches and rallies. In addition, school employees should not be involved in planning and/or organizing political marches/rallies while on the job during working hours.

Immigration is a very important and personal issue to many students in Oregon, and it is my hope that our schools will use this opportunity to discuss and educate students about democracy, political activity and consequences.

Republican State Representative Jeff Kropf from Sublimity told last week that he plans on introducing several pieces of state immigration reform legislation next session. Kropf who is currently flying border patrol missions in southern Arizona with the Minutemen is outraged by Castillo`s comments.

He said Castillo is what is wrong with Oregon politics. She is totally out of touch with what is wrong the state`s education system. Kids should be in school learning and not leaving to hold a protest, if they want to demonstrate, fine, then do so after school or on the weekends.

Kropf, who hosts a weekend radio talk show on KXL, said he made-up his mind to vote against giving Oregon schools 42-million dollars in unexpected lottery revenue during next week`s special session. If approved, it would be the first time in years the state has approved a mid-biennium bonus instead of a cutback school funding.

Republican State Representative Vicki Berger from Salem and Kropf both back the student`s right of free speech, however she said the students are sending taxpayers a horrible message by walking out of school to hold immigration reform protests.

Oregon taxpayers may get the impression that students don`t value their education and don`t respect state and district truancy rules enough to hold these protests when school is not in session, so why would they want to give school districts, most of which are hurting for money right now, more of their tax dollars, she said.

Berger agrees that students should take part in the rallies to be a part of democracy, however children need to be in and stay at school. She added that the bigger issue right now is whether or not state money allocated to schools should be withheld from districts with illegal immigrant students.

All children in Oregon, whether legal or illegal, should be allowed to attend public school she said. Reporters Note: attempted to contact Senate President Peter Courtney for a democratic view and independent candidate for Governor Ben Westlund for their opinions on this issue. The calls unfortunately were not returned.



Comments are Closed on this story.

Hank Ruark April 15, 2006 7:19 am (Pacific time)

Indeed this is truly a "testing time" -- and not only for the Legislotors. There is a "teaching moment", always --this is one. What will we all learn about what we truly mean by democracy and "free speech" ? Which "lesson" is most meaningful in a true democracy ?

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.