School Principal Walks Out
Natalia J. Garland
minority of high school students continue to protest immigration
reform,* and news reporters continue to give them major coverage.
The large numbers of students who remain in class receive no media
attention. There is a high school in Texas where not only some
of the students engaged in a protest march, but their principal
joined them as well. First, I will offer details on the situation.
Second, I will add my questions and personal comments. Third, I
will provide an update.
The Situation at
Lanier High School is located in San Antonio, Texas, and is under
the San Antonio Independent School District (S.A.I.S.D.). The
enrollment at Lanier is 1,473. The principal is Richard Solis.
Last Tuesday, April 2nd, about 200 students walked out of
school in an immigration reform protest march. Principal
Solis walked out with them.
felt his presence would help maintain order and safety while the
students marched. The Lanier School Board later supported
Solis' walkout, stating that he had helped to keep the students
calm. Notwithstanding, police blocked City Hall and the County
Courthouse to prevent students from reaching their doors, and
thereby forcing students to turn back to school grounds.
stated he did not condone the march, some students obviously
interpreted Solis' presence as support: "Heís here
supporting us, so we thank him for that. Thank you Mr. Solis!"
He seemed to suggest that students attend another protest march
to be held on Monday, April 10th, saying: "I do
encourage you, if you want to be part of another situation thatís
going to occur on next Monday--that is your right. And it will be
held at Milam Square if you want to do it."
On the one hand,
Solis stated that some protesting students may have been
copycats, and that some were not fully knowledgeable of the
proposed legislation. On the other hand, he stated that he was
going to look upon the walkout as an educational experience, a
lesson on peaceful demonstrations. He is not going to punish the
protesting students, and this is supported by S.A.I.S.D. In other
words, there will be no suspensions. Solis will, however, require
the protestors to write a paper on their experience of the march.
of the students in S.A.I.S.D. are Hispanic. Ninety-three percent
are economically disadvantaged. Seventeen percent have limited
English proficiency. S.A.I.S.D. was rated Academically Acceptable
by the Texas Education Agency (2004-2005). The rating system
ranges as follows: Exemplary, Recognized, Academically Acceptable,
Academically Unacceptable. In 2000, the Texas School Performance
Review published a report stating that: "For at least two
years, the San Antonio Independent School District (S.A.I.S.D.) has
been in dire need of clear direction. Poor financial decisions,
lagging student performance and a lack of careful planning have
left the district's reputation and its financial viability at
If about 200
students were protesting, that means about 1,273 students were in
class. What was Solis' responsibility to the students who
followed the regular school day? Assuming that the protesting
students were Hispanic, most of the students who attended class
were also Hispanic. What kind of role-modeling was Solis
providing for both students and teachers? It could be argued that
he role-modeled unexcused absenteeism and disregard for the flow
of class work. It could be concluded that there were 1,273
students, mostly Hispanics, who had more respect for rules and
more commitment to education than their school principal.
Why did Solis
feel it was his responsibility to march with the students? The
student protest was not a school-sponsored fieldtrip. Parents did
not sign permission slips for their children to march with
Solis in the direction of City Hall. Is it really possible for
a principal to watch over 200 students in the streets? It can be
difficult for a teacher to manage 30 students within the walls of
a classroom. Did Solis walk off the job? Was it his duty to
stay in school and provide leadership for the teachers and the
remaining 1,273 students?
students are not going to be suspended from school. According to
the Texas Education Code, leaving school without permission is a
Level I Offense (the lowest level), punishable by suspension,
detention, or withdrawal of privileges. However, fluctuation in
punishment seems to be nothing new. The Texas School Performance
Review (T.S.P.R.) reported in 2000: "Although S.A.I.S.D. has
adopted a single Code of Student Conduct for all its schools, it
is implemented inconsistently throughout the district."
The report goes on
As noted by
T.S.P.R.'s Keeping Texas Children Safe in School, safe
school districts establish clear expectations for students,
parents, teachers, and administrators and apply them consistently.
While the S.A.I.S.D. Code of Conduct complies with law and is
fairly clear, it is not applied consistently. This became evident
during T.S.P.R. public forums. Comments included:
"Student discipline policies are not enforced on everyone.
Administration picks and chooses who will get punished or not."
"District must enforce policy concerning discipline of
students. When the district takes it serious the students will
take it serious."
"Consequences at the district level need to be enforced.
What happened to the zero tolerance in the schools?"
"District policies not enforced consistently...Too many
disruptive students allowed to continue their actions."
Comments of this type were echoed repeatedly by school-based
police officers, who noted that it is often pointless to pursue
enforcement of many aspects of the code of conduct because it will
not be supported by administrators in the central office. District
administrators indicated they had concerns as to whether
principals were implementing the code of conduct
[End of quote.]
requirement that the protesting students write a paper on their
experience, who will correct these 200 papers? If English
teachers, for example, are to be given these papers to correct,
then this would be an unfair burden on them. If Solis wants the
students to write a paper, perhaps he would consider a research
paper on the history of immigration in America. This would
utilize students' academic skills and could also include personal
reflection and current application.
Now, it is at the
discretion of individual teachers whether to let the protesting
students make up the work they missed in class. Again, this puts
teachers under pressure. A teacher's decision could be
interpreted as political alignment, one way or the other. Both
the protesting students and the stay-in-school students could feel
that the teacher is prejudiced. There should be a clear
administrative decision about making up work.
When did peaceful
demonstration become part of the high school curriculum? Was a
lesson plan developed for that day? What state educational
standards were being met? Can any group of students organize a
protest march for any political cause, incur an unexcused absence
and write a paper about their subjective experience, and return to
school without further negative consequences? Would Solis be
inclined to join a student march against abortion, or in favor of
raising minimum wage, or in demand for human rights in Sudan?
Where does it begin and end?
This is not the
first time students in the San Antonio area have engaged in
protest. In 1997, in response to the establishment of a stricter
dress code, 200 students at Holmes High School walked out in
protest (some also threatened to burn the Texan and American
flags). Fifteen of these students were suspended. Again, the
inconsistency in punishment is evident. Students at Holmes were
suspended for their walkout, while students at Lanier were not.
This has also been true of the protest marches throughout the
San Antonio schools. Some schools have suspended students, and
other schools such as Lanier have given unexcused absences.
It is reported that
the seniors at Lanier did not join the protest march last week.
Why? They feared that, as a consequence, they might not be
allowed to attend the prom or graduation ceremonies. This is a
healthy respect for rules and shows an ability to connect
unacceptable behavior to negative consequences. This kind of
thinking is also in accordance with the Texas Education Code. As
mentioned above, leaving school without permission is punishable
by withdrawal of privileges. I wonder, what are the seniors
There is a division
among students at all the schools where protests occurred: there
were students who protested and students who remained in class.
The students who remained in class may or may not disagree with
immigration reform. The important fact is that the students who
chose to remain in class were able to follow rules, place a
priority on education, and avoid possible unwanted negative
consequences, despite whatever political views they held. These
students deserve praise for their maturity in decision-making and
their emotional stability under stressful conditions.
maintain political neutrality. Professional boundaries are
essential. Student unity belongs inside school with a focus on
academics and school pride. Current events, including
controversial issues, should be discussed and debated within the
context of a planned lesson and with teacher guidance. Educators
should not take a defeatist attitude toward order and discipline.
Policies and procedures should be followed in emergency situations.
That way, all students are treated with equality and fairness,
and educators' intentions cannot be misinterpreted.
S.A.I.S.D., on April
6th, sent a letter home to parents regarding student walkouts, and
also posted the letter on the District website. Superintendent
Rubén D. Olivárez states what could happen
rather than what will happen if students walk out of
school. He also presents a vague plan for continuing instruction
in school. I cannot help wondering what it means to "engage
students in all facets of the immigration issue." Let's
engage students in English, history, math, and science. Parents
are probably already very aware of the immigration issue. They
need their children to learn academics. As Olivárez
states in his letter, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills
(T.A.K.S.) tests will be given April 18-21. Right now,
passing those tests is the best way for all students to deal with
the immigration issue.
I will conclude
with part of his letter.
Any student who
leaves class to participate in an event such as the walkout will
receive an unexcused absence. Other consequences could include
detention for every hour missed by those students with repeated
violations. Also, please reiterate to your child that you, as
well as your child, could face fines and penalties and be referred
to truancy court if your child misses classes.
As educators we will
use the immigration issue, like other current topics, as
opportunities for instruction to take place within the confines of
the campus where students will be safer than if they are out
walking in the streets. Our schools are planning assemblies and
other activities to engage students in all facets of the
[End of quote.]
Let's hope that
parents and students take the letter seriously. The marches
scheduled for Monday, April 10th, will mark a page in history.
Students can be a part of this by fulfilling their obligation to
stay in school where their safety is more assured, and by
preparing for their future in a way that might not have been
accessible to their parents--education. If they want to march,
they can get their parents' permission and join the marches after
[NOTE: This essay
is not intended to be a criticism of Principal Solis or a general
statement on the quality of education at Lanier High School. This
essay is an exploration of problem-solving actions taken by Lanier
High School students and personnel, based on available information.
It is recognized that there are other dimensions to S.A.I.S.D. and
Lanier High School: such as their participation in the San Antonio
Education Partnership, a program committed to helping students
graduate from high school and enter college.
Furthermore, it is
not guaranteed that the statistics presented in this essay are
entirely correct. The statistics on the S.A.I.S.D. website differ
slightly from those on the Great Schools website. Although the
T.S.P.R. report is outdated, a more current report could not be
found and it seemed that the 2000 report was significant to the
The information on
the Lanier High School walkout was taken from the WOAI News 4
website. There was also lesser coverage at the My San Antonio
website and with these differences: a student said that Solis did
not condone the walkout, but that he supported the students'
views; Solis was going to require the protesting students to
write a paper on immigration reform.] (Written 04/10/06: bibliography available.)
[*ADDED NOTE: The
student protest was against the 2006 Sensenbrenner Bill which
would have made illegal immigration a felony crime--not against
the comprehensive immigration reform proposal which followed in
Until we meet