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Sonoma students plan Friday #WalkOut

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Elsewhere around the county

Most high schools in Sonoma County have some form of April 20 Walkout planned. Several hundred students are expected to gather in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square on Friday morning for a rally. Sonoma Valley teen Ana Harb attend Sonoma Academy and she will be one of the speakers at the Santa Rosa event.

Students will leave their classrooms at 10 a.m. and protest in the front of their high schools for 20 minutes in honor of all victims of gun violence. They will then march to Old Courthouse Square for a noon rally.

Friday, April 20, is National School Walkout Day. High school students across the country, and in Sonoma Valley, will walk off of their campuses at 10 a.m. on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shootings, in the second major school walkout in two months.

The first, on March 14, was in protest specifically of gun violence and it marked exactly one month since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

But Friday’s protest is broader.

Unlike the March walkout, which lasted for just 17 minutes to mark the 17 people killed in Parkland, national organizers have envisioned this as an all-day event. Students have been encouraged to plan open mics, rallies, voter registration drives, letter writing campaigns or other activism for the rest of the day.

Local youth leaders in Sonoma Valley, like junior Jose Valdivia, together with North Bay Organizing Project and YVote, are organizing the Sonoma Valley High School walkout on Friday, which by all accounts is expected to be significantly smaller than the March 14 walkout.

Valdivia hopes that around 100 students will participate on Friday. The plan is to meet in front of the school on Broadway at 10 a.m., and to walk along the sidewalk up to the Plaza amphitheater for speeches and spoken word performances. Many students will be wearing orange, the color that has come to represent the anti-gun-violence movement.

The community is invited to join the students at the Plaza and a half dozen local organizations are involved, including the Latinx Student Congress, the high school MECHA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán), Sonoma State’s MECHA, the local LGBTQ Connections Youth Leadership Team and other POC (people of color) youth leaders. A handful of organizations, including the North Bay Organizing Project, are sending representatives to support to the SVHS students who participate.

North Bay Organizing Project is a grassroots, multi-racial and multi-issue organization comprised of more than 20 faith, labor, environmental, student and community-based organizations based in Sonoma County.

Organizing Project youth organizer Tre Vasquez believes that all youth have a right to safe schools and communities free from violence.

“This includes gun violence, police brutality, deportations, and educational inequities that leave behind marginalized students and their families,” said Vasquez. “Instead of more security, students are voicing a need for more resources like counselors, restorative justice and health centers.”

Many of the organizers of the walkout are Xicanx/Latinx youth and Vasquez said that they will be sharing their stories in relationship to violence.

“It’s not just about gun control as a solution to school shootings but addressing the injustices that exist in many forms in order to change the entire climate we live in,” he said. “In the aftermath of Parkland, it became clear: If we’re going to talk about an end to violence, it can’t just be for some communities – it’s got to be for all of us. If we’re going to talk about ending gun violence, then we better be uplifting Andy Lopez, Stephon Clark and the many others whose lives have been taken by police brutality.”

Vasquez believes there are too many issues that youth of color face today in Sonoma County that “get left out of the conversation.”

“These young people are not going to be left out anymore,” said Vasquez.

Elsewhere around the county

Most high schools in Sonoma County have some form of April 20 Walkout planned. Several hundred students are expected to gather in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square on Friday morning for a rally. Sonoma Valley teen Ana Harb attend Sonoma Academy and she will be one of the speakers at the Santa Rosa event.

Students will leave their classrooms at 10 a.m. and protest in the front of their high schools for 20 minutes in honor of all victims of gun violence. They will then march to Old Courthouse Square for a noon rally.

Valdivia agreed that the walkout is a call for broader changes that will make schools where all young people can feel safe, supported and respected.

“We want to arm our schools with resources like nurses, mental health services and counselors: proven methods of prevention,” said Valdivia. “We want to be able to prevent tragedies rather than reacting after lives have already been lost. All students deserve to have a safe and equal education, free from all forms of violence... regardless of one’s sexuality, gender identity, race and skin color, ability or religious affiliation.”

One action item for Friday’s walkout is promoting voter registration among students age 16 and up.

“We want to promote engagement and activism at an early age,” said Valdivia. “We want to show the power that youth can have to make change on a local, regional and national level.”

The nonprofit YVote is sending a representative to the Sonoma Valley to pre-register voters as young as 16 and help educate them on the issues impacting their schools and communities.

“This way, students will get to decide who gets to represent us and influence policies that impact communities of color, undocumented people, the LGBTQ community and low income people the harshest,” said Vasquez.

Both Valdivia and SVHS Principal Kathleen Hawing stressed that the walkout is not a school-sanctioned event. Hawing sent a note to parents headlined, “Please encourage your student to stay on campus on April 20.”

SVHS students who walk out will get an “unexcused cut” and Valdivia was told they will not be allowed to make up missed tests or quizzes.

Valdivia expected those consequences, but was taken aback this week when the administration sent out a notice that students who were registered to take AP tests in May were required on Friday to fill out pre-administration paperwork during the period of time that the walkout was planned.

“We were told by our counselors and by the administration that this year, this paperwork session was mandatory and, if we missed it, we couldn’t take the May AP exams that we had already paid and registered for,” said Valdivia, who is signed up for four AP exams next month. “We’ve been told, if you don’t show up to pre-administration session, you can’t sit for the tests.”

AP exams are only administered by the College Board once a year.

Junior Jacquelyn Torres called the regional AP testing office, but says she got no clear answers as to whether a high school could actually prevent a student from sitting for the tests already paid and registered for for this reason.

When SVHS Vice Principal Doug Watenpool left a phone message late on Wednesday, the high school appeared to be softening or rethinking its stance, and students were told there had been “miscommunication.”

“We never intended the notice to imply that students would be prevented from taking their scheduled AP tests,” Watenpool said. He said that SVHS would be offering the pre-administration session not only on April 20 but also on May 1 and after-school on May 2.

Valdivia’s plan for an all-day rally has been shortened to around two hours so that students can get back to school before the end of the day.

Email Lorna at ourschools@sonomanews.com.