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School Principal Walks Out

Natalia J. Garland

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A 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

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.

Apparently, Solis 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.

Although Solis stated he did not condone the march, some students obviously interpreted Solis' presence as support: "He’s 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 that’s 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.

Eighty-eight percent 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 risk."

Questions and Comments

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?

The protesting 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 to say:

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 consistently.
[End of quote.]

Regarding Solis' 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 thinking now?

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.

Educators should 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 immigration issue.
[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 school.

[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 current situation.

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 2007.]

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2006 Natalia J. Garland