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Walkouts express solidarity with peers at Forest Grove High School, where banner stirs action



TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Hundreds of Beaverton High School students head back to class after staging a walkout Thursday to express solidarity with peers at Forest Grove High School, where a student hung a 'Build A Wall' sign that offended many and sparked protests that have spread across Washington County.Hundreds of students walked out from at least seven Beaverton-area schools late last week to express solidarity with Forest Grove High School, where students staged a walkout of their own after a student hung a banner on May 18 reading “Build A Wall.”

The message refers to presidential candidate Donald Trump’s pledge to stop illegal immigration from Mexico by constructing a wall along America's southern border, but this stance and other controversial statements by Trump have been broadly viewed as discriminatory toward Mexicans, Muslims and others.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A Beaverton High School student carries a Mexican flag following a walkout at Beaverton High School, where students marched out of class in solidarity with students at Forest Grove High School, where a Wednesday incident sparked protests.After the banner stirred the walkout at Forest Grove, protests quickly spread through social media and other means to many schools around Washington County. Schools in Beaverton, Hillsboro, Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood and elsewhere participated in walkouts, as did several colleges including Portland Community College's Rock Creek Campus.

“I know from my Snapchat a lot of schools are doing it,” said Kimberly Morales, a senior at Beaverton High School, where she and at least 200 students — though protesters estimated the total at least twice that — walked out of classes at the beginning of second period and marched around the school.

Many members of the school’s large Hispanic student population were involved but they also were joined by other students, Morales and fellow students said as the walkout ended and most headed back to class later that morning.

Morales said she and others wanted to show that they oppose what they consider Trump’s intolerance for all Hispanics.

Walkouts of 100 or more students were also reported Thursday at Aloha, Westview, Merlo Station, Health and Science, and Southridge high schools, said district spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler.

Students at Whitford Middle School also walked out of class late last week, including some who left campus without permission, according to a message Principal Aaron Persons sent to parents.

Wheeler said all of the protests appeared to be civil. She concurred that many students stayed on their campuses after leaving class, but some did leave school grounds, which was more of a concern to staff.

All told, an estimated 800 students participated in seven walkouts, Wheeler said.

Whether students who walked out of classes will face discipline will be determined by building administrators.

"Schools are using this as a teachable moment," Wheeler said.

A minority of students will be disciplined for more serious behavior. And some of the young Whitford students face restitution in the form of service learning.

The Forest Grove student who hung the banner May 18 has apologized, saying the act was intended to express support for the right to free speech but was poorly thought out. A blog posted the full letter.

In part, the student wrote:

"But I now understand that I chose a really bad place and way of expressing my belief on free speech. In trying to be noticeable, I used a message that held a strong, threatening connotation. I did not see that it was as strong or as negative as it was — but now I do. I understand now why it is being called racist and that I’ve made some students feel they and their families are not wanted at Forest Grove High School. That was never my intention."

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton High School students disperse after holding a walkout to protest what they considered intolerance expressed by a Forest Grove High School student on Wednesday.


By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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