Education Matters: San Dieguito's confinement

“Welcome to the revolution.”

When student leader and Parkland school shooting survivor Cameron Kasky shouted those words, he was addressing an estimated 800,000 people on March 24 in Washington, D.C., at the massive “March for Our Lives” gathering.

Ten days earlier, one month after the horrific slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students across America walked out of their classrooms March 14 for 17 minutes to honor the memory of the 17 murdered children and adults.

The walkout symbolized student outrage at the easy access to military assault weapons in this country and demonstrated their fierce determination to change our society’s out-of-control gun-obsessed culture.

Schools in San Diego County participated as well.

The tribute at Patrick Henry High School in San Diego was particularly poignant. The students created a circle of 17 empty chairs with a rose placed on the seat and a photo of each of the dead attached to a chair.

Where were San Dieguito Union High School District students in all this? Students at the four comprehensive high schools actively participated in the protest but were hidden from view.

At Torrey Pines High School Principal Rob Coppo said this of the March 14 protest: “I don’t know the exact numbers, but it appeared to be roughly between 500-1000 students. Our Falcons went to the amphitheater in the middle of campus and they were silent for 17 minutes. They returned to class at the 17-minute mark. There was no program and no speeches.”

Brett Killeen, principal of Canyon Crest Academy, said, “We estimate that 800-1000 students walked down to the quad. A few students spoke and then encouraged those in attendance to meet 17 new people. They concluded with 17 seconds of silence and then returned to class.”

Principal Bryan Marcus of La Costa Canyon High School said more than 1,000 students walked out and assembled on the stadium track that wraps around the field. There were no speeches. Instead, the students “stood in complete silence for the entire 17 minutes,” he said.

Adam Camacho, principal of San Dieguito Academy, did not respond.

“Protected” students

San Dieguito decided on a uniform approach that kept all student protestors on campus and away from public view. Even members of the press and news cameras were not allowed to showcase the student-led events.

The order by the district to confine students to on-campus protests was couched in school safety language that sounded more like scare tactics and the need to retain control over students, rather than sincere worry.

“Our principals have met with student leaders and teachers to set guidelines and expectations for the demonstrations which will maintain peace and order while still supporting the rights of students to express their beliefs under their First Amendment rights,” wrote SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill in a message to parents.

The claim that students needed to remain on campus out of fear for their safety was a way to control student activism, restrict First Amendment rights, and intimidate kids.

Authoritarian control of student action runs counter to the point of the protests and diminishes effectiveness. This approach was calculating and hypocritical, by allowing the district to claim it supports student rights while ensuring that corralled students don’t cause any real trouble for the district.

You can’t have a revolution unless you’re seen and heard.

This is a massive youth-led revolt against gun violence in our society, and it’s those in charge of our institutions these young protesters are angry with.

San Dieguito likes to boast that it has the highest-scoring, most promising students in the county. So where were these would-be leaders of tomorrow during one of the country’s greatest social movements since the Vietnam War?

They were tucked away – “protected” – on a closed campus by administrative edict.

The district exercised its power with a shrewd rationalization that served to suppress the free speech rights of students to demonstrate in public.

As Emma Gonzalez said, “We call BS.”

Open campus

Student safety is a serious concern, but this was a poor time to use that flimsy excuse.

San Dieguito has dragged its feet on installing surveillance cameras, fencing and other protective measures to keep intruders from casually walking onto its schools.

Torrey Pines High School is probably the most open campus in the district, and parents have been clamoring for years for tighter security measures.

Within weeks of the Parkland shooting, dozens of threats directed at San Diego County high schools were received, two of which were aimed at Torrey Pines. Both individuals making the threats were identified and taken into custody.

About the flurry of school threats, the San Diego Union Tribune on Feb. 24 reported that, “except for the one at Torrey Pines,” police concluded “that the threats were not credible and warranted no arrests…”

Yet Dill said on the news that despite the alleged threats, “at no time were our students or school in danger.”

It’s nice to look back and make that statement, but clearly the police felt quite differently at the time. At Torrey Pines, the threat was credible enough to make an arrest and take a youth into custody.

Repeal Second Amendment

Following rules and obeying those in positions of power are what got us in this mess to begin with. It’s time to challenge the rules and question authority figures when they seek to control movement and tell student activists what they can and cannot do.

In a remarkable New York Times op-ed piece published March 27, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “Rarely in my lifetime have I seen the type of civic engagement schoolchildren and their supporters demonstrated in Washington and other major cities throughout the country this past Saturday. These demonstrations demand our respect.”

He suggests the movement’s leaders should think bigger, though, and work to repeal the Second Amendment.

There’s a saying that you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Resisting the status quo has to happen if change is ever to come. I feel certain Justice Stevens would agree.

There’s another opportunity on April 20 for students and supporters of gun control to let their voices be heard and numbers be seen.

April 20 is the day 19 years ago when two teens opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing 13 people and wounding more than 20 others.

The April 20 national walkout to protest the lack of effective gun legislation is sponsored by the Network for Public Education and is called the National Day of Action Against Gun Violence in Schools.

Adults who have been frustrated for decades by NRA-fueled paranoia finally have hope that a new generation will save us from ourselves.

To local youth: Be the leaders the district and community say you have been raised to be. Vote out the politicians who take NRA money, for sure. But do more.

Be bold. Think big. Aim high. Let everyone hear you.

And be seen.

Opinion columnist and Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at: suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

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