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Students protest lack of charge against Trump supporter

Donovan says organizers will be held accountable

Students+walked+out+of+school+Thursday%2C+Feb.+23%2C+in+protest+of+state+authorities+not+charging+a+man+who+made+news+last+month+for+yelling+at+students+about+immigration%2C+on+school+grounds.+About+300+students%2C+administrators+said%2C+participated+in+the+peaceful+protest+and+most+eventually+returned+to+class.+There+were+reports%2C+however%2C+of+outliers+who+weren%27t+protesting+as+much+as+just+using+the+incident+as+an+excuse+to+cut+class.
Students walked out of school Thursday, Feb. 23, in protest of state authorities not charging a man who made news last month for yelling at students about immigration, on school grounds. About 300 students, administrators said, participated in the peaceful protest and most eventually returned to class. There were reports, however, of outliers who weren't protesting as much as just using the incident as an excuse to cut class.

Students walked out of school Thursday, Feb. 23, in protest of state authorities not charging a man who made news last month for yelling at students about immigration, on school grounds. About 300 students, administrators said, participated in the peaceful protest and most eventually returned to class. There were reports, however, of outliers who weren't protesting as much as just using the incident as an excuse to cut class.

Rachel Uchoa

Rachel Uchoa

Students walked out of school Thursday, Feb. 23, in protest of state authorities not charging a man who made news last month for yelling at students about immigration, on school grounds. About 300 students, administrators said, participated in the peaceful protest and most eventually returned to class. There were reports, however, of outliers who weren't protesting as much as just using the incident as an excuse to cut class.

Rachel Uchoa, Staff Writer

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About 300 students walked out of school Thursday, Feb. 23, during Advisory in protest of state authorities deciding not to criminally charge the man last month who yelled racial epithets to students as they walked to their cars after dismissal.

The man had been drinking and was celebrating President Donald Trump’s inauguration. He was in the car of a person who had driven onto school grounds to pick up a student from school. He stepped out of the car and, while holding a pro-Trump sign, told students that they would be deported. Students yelled back, and reportedly male students engaged in a physical altercation. Police investigated and sent a warrant to the state, which declined to pursue a charge.

Senior Tyra Hodge, who participated in the walkout, told the press that, “Many think that we’re just some kids who feel hurt because some man said mean things to us, but in reality with what is happening in our nation today, it goes beyond that. There’s a reason we went out there, and it wasn’t to go back inside. We want results.”

Mayor Mark Boughton has explained on his Twitter account that evidence was presented to state prosecutors, who declined to pursue charges. The administration has banned the man from school property, which means if he violates the ban he could be arrested.

The city dispatched a heavy police presence to the school to help keep the protest contained. Isaias Nuñez, a senior who participated in the walkout, said “If we don’t do anything at all then it will send a message we don’t want, which is that we are tolerant of ignorance and disrespect.”

The students left the school during Advisory, at 9:30 a.m., and after about 10 minutes of milling around out front, Donovan, who later thanked students for keeping the protest calm, directed them to return to class. 

The group, however, turned and walked north toward East Gate Road, with administrators, the press, and police following. They then decided to change paths and head to the football field. All the way they chanted their disapproval of Trump’s controversial immigration policies that have kept some refugees from entering the country, while also directing ICE to detain and deport illegal aliens. All the while, students and the press tweeted photos and videos. Some students began chanting an epithet against Trump.

Junior Iman Farah said, “I am thankful for the administrators for respecting our decisions and for hearing our voices, I want to use this walkout to encourage many who stay silent, to shout.” Hodge, president of the school’s Black Lives Matter club, later addressed the student body over the PA system, thanking the participants for keeping the protest peaceful. She made it clear that the BLM wasn’t involved in organizing the walkout. Administration is seeking who organized the walkout, Donovan said.

She said some club members participated in the walk out because they were hurt and felt “unprotected” in the administration’s response to the incident.

Many students and administrators — even Boughton — have said the man should have been charged with perhaps disorderly conduct or harassment. Trespassing couldn’t be considered because the campus opens to the public after 2 p.m.

Donovan agreed that “he should have been charged for something” and that once the police were involved it was no longer in his control. Donovan has also made it clear that he wanted the students to feel like they have a voice, adding that, “I understand that you want justice.”

At the end of the school day Friday, however, Donovan again addressed the student body and indicated that those responsible for organizing the walkout will be held accountable. He said while he respects the students’ First Amendment rights, he cannot allow those rights to infringe upon other students’ rights for a safe learning environment.

Here is Donovan’s address, in full:

“These are turbulent times in our country.  The political climate and concerns about social justice do not end at the schoolhouse door, as was evident during yesterday’s protest.  One of the fundamental rights of American citizens is that of free speech.  However, free speech comes with the grave responsibility of ensuring that your message is not delivered at the expense of others.  Yesterday, we tried to balance the need to hear your message and use the opportunity as a teachable moment while also ensuring the safety of everyone in the building.  While the message was delivered, it was at the expense of compromising the learning environment for the vast majority of students.  

“School is a microcosm of society and a place where we teach students both the power of the first amendment and the responsibilities that accompany that sacred right.  I take tremendous pride in DHS.  All of your administrators and teachers must balance many priorities:  we have to make sure that you are learning; we have to make sure that are respected; we have to make sure that you respect others; and above all, we have to make sure that you are safe.  Yesterday’s actions made it impossible to evenly balance these priorities and caused a division in the community.  Some people have complained that the students involved in last month’s incident were not punished more severely.  Others have complained that the man who came on our property was not punished more severely.  There is no one decision that will appease both groups.  However, we must find common ground to express opinions as is our right as Americans.  The common ground must include ensuring a safe learning environment for ALL students.  As such, I cannot condone behavior that disrupts the rights of others to learn and will apply the consequences as they are outlined in the Discipline Code pending our investigation.  Your voices are important and I am glad that so many of you have partnered with me to identify ways to express your message without infringing on the rights of others.  I look forward to continuing conversations about ways to make DHS, Danbury, and our country a better place to be.  If you have concerns or suggestions, I am always available to speak with you.”

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Danbury High School     43 Clapboard Ridge Road Danbury, CT 06811     (203) 797-4800
Students protest lack of charge against Trump supporter