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Student Antiwar Walkouts Spark Small Town Backlash

Jennifer Kline Dec 9, 2007

In protest of the Iraq War and military recruitment in their schools, an estimated 1,000 high school students walked out of classrooms in at least a dozen towns and cities across western Washington state Nov. 16. In Seattle, more than 400 students marched through the downtown, chanting antiwar slogans.

Organized by members of the national antiwar group Youth Against War and Racism, the event was just one of a growing number of student-led antiwar walkouts that have recently taken place in high schools across the country.

In Tukwila, Wash., a town of 17,000 people just south of Seattle where more than twothirds of the school district’s students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, 150 students walked out of Foster High School, chanting “Money for schools, not war.” The students marched from the school to the town’s City Hall, where they held a peaceful rally.

“We were planning only to walk across the street but we decided to walk the extra mile to City Hall,” said Bailey Davidson, who participated in the walkout.

The student-led antiwar action created a controversy in Tukwila, after the high school principal and district superintendent reprimanded six teachers for participating in the walkout, alleging misconduct.

Social studies teacher Brett Rogers was placed on paid administrative leave for more than a week for leaving the campus during the walkout, while five other teachers were threatened with administrative penalties.

In response, hundreds of phone calls and emails flooded the school board and more than 100 supporters rallied outside a packed school board meeting held on Nov. 27.

“What really opened my eyes today about how big this has gotten is when I heard that the school board has received emails and phone calls from seven different countries and 22 different states,” said Tiffany Williams, a sophomore at Foster.

However, along with supporters, there were at least four police cars on the site of the board meeting. “There were more police officers there than when we have a bomb threat at our school,” noted Williams.

Though Rogers was allowed to return to campus on Nov. 28, students claim the administration is now cracking down on their organizing.

“Every time we try to organize something they call the cops,” said Davidson, who reported that students were forced to meet off campus after the school administration sent police officers to intimidate students who were organizing on campus. “Now, we keep it on the down-low; we try to keep the admin out of it.”

“Tukwila has no history of anything like this,” said Tom McCarthy, who is an organizer with the Tukwila Teachers and Students Solidarity Committee, which was formed by community members to protest the crackdown on teachers. “What is happening in Tukwila can be viewed as a spark or a challenge for the nation.”

“Tukwila is a small town that I didn’t have that much hope for until this began … It’s amazing to see what has happened this week,” said Davidson.