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Students Get Locked Into Campus Rally

November 02, 1994|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — Birmingham High School Principal Gerald Kleinman decided that he just wasn't going to allow it. He'd heard other administrators say they can't stop students from walking off campus in protest of Proposition 187, but he refused Tuesday to stand by and watch it happen again on his campus.

So when about 150 to 200 students marched out of class Tuesday morning, Kleinman beat them to the front gate and locked it. When the crowd turned for another gate, he ran ahead of the pack again and padlocked those gates.

"I really didn't want them on the streets," Kleinman said. "I didn't want them out into the neighborhood. I did not want a repeat of Friday," when thousands of students, including about 400 from Birmingham, left their campuses in the biggest student protest against the initiative to date.

Young protesters from 11 San Fernando Valley middle and high schools crowded streets and blocked intersections throughout the school day Friday, leading to a tactical alert by police, and scattered fighting and vandalism.

Many administrators have said they are all but powerless to stop the masses of students from walking off campus in protest of the controversial ballot measure, which would deny public education and other social services to illegal immigrants.

But not Kleinman. At the first signs of a mounting protest, he and other administrators armed themselves with two-way radios and took positions at campus exits. Meanwhile, Los Angeles police heard of the fledgling demonstration over school police radios. About six school and Los Angeles patrol cars lined up in front of campus.

The youths responded to the blockade with a sit-in at the front of campus, asking administrators to call the news media and to allow them to hold an anti-187 forum. Ultimately, the students retreated to the auditorium, where they discussed their opposition to the ballot measure, due for a vote Tuesday, and planned a walkout today.

This morning, the students have planned to meet before school in the parking lot, where Kleinman can't lock them in. They also agreed to stage a peaceful march.

"I apologize . . . to everybody for what happened Friday," said Olga Escobar, a 17-year-old sophomore. "This is not the way we're supposed to do it. We're supposed to do it peacefully as Martin Luther King did. We are not here . . . to break windows, go into stores and bang on cars."

During their midmorning forum, several students jeered and appeared uninterested. One student set off a stink bomb that permeated the auditorium.

"We're here to talk about 187, not to talk about a stink bomb," shouted Stephanie Brynildsen, a 14-year-old freshman. "You guys are against 187. Why don't you show people you're against 187? Show everybody that."

Concerned about safety, Kleinman urged students to confine their protest to school grounds. With a protest planned before school starts, however, he said he would be unable to replicate his Tuesday success.

Before they left the forum, student organizers made one thing clear: "If you're not going to do it right, don't do it," said Debbie Saravia, a 16-year-old senior. "We're in this for peace . . . not violence."

Under Proposition 187, school officials would be required to verify students' immigration status and ultimately report their families' citizenship. The Board of Education has opposed the measure and Supt. Sid Thompson has appealed to students to remain on campus.

Nonetheless, students have been staging walkouts throughout the district for several weeks. Los Angeles Unified School District officials said eight schools were involved in protests Tuesday.

About 100 Canoga Park High students circled the school perimeter before holding a rally on the football field, where they agreed to keep their protests on campus.

"Up until the election, I think most campuses will face this issue," said Larry Higgins, principal at Canoga Park. "Kids need an arena to express themselves--whether it's 187 or some other issue."

The Birmingham students opposing the measure said they believe that everyone living in this country has the right to free public education and health services.

"I have family here from Peru who are illegals and they deserve the same rights I have," said Paul Menacho, a 17-year-old senior. "They work just as hard--if not harder--than the American citizens. Why shouldn't they have the same rights?"

* RELATED STORIES: B1

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