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Students stage walkout: LAHS students protest continued U.S. presence in Iraq

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By Carol A. Clark

In marking the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War, more than 100 Los Alamos High School students walked out of class Wednesday. Reminiscent of protests in the 1960s, the students assembled on the front lawn of the high school waving flowers and peace signs in a silent sit-in.“We want to make a strong and loud statement against the war, and show that we are willing to cause a disruption to bring attention to the fact that we are in a war that is a mistake,” said protest organizer Megan Stockton. “We are doing a silent protest so as not to disrupt classes. The walking out was disruption enough.”Gary Beard, a junior, explained why he took part in the protest. “We’ve been fighting in Iraq for too long and by demonstrating, we want people to know it’s bad and we hope they will join us,” he said.Senior Libbi Lovejoy agreed. “We’ve been in Iraq for five years and it’s time to get out,” she said.Each student wore a number written on the side of his or her face representing the 3,990 U.S. soldiers who have been killed since the war began, Stockton said.Stockton is a senior and member of the LAHS Coalition for Peace and Global Awareness. She and others spoke with LAHS Principal Grace Brown Tuesday. “We told Mrs. Brown the reason we are walking out is we are willing to disrupt the learning process because silence is consent and we can’t be silent anymore,” Stockton said. “She threatened to suspend us yesterday, but hopefully that’s changed.”Brown said this morning that the students will not be suspended. “They received an unexcused absence from class if they had not been pre-excused, which I assume means their parents were aware of the situation,” Brown said. Brown discussed the importance of diversity in a school and in a classroom. “We should be able to look at a variety of points of view,” she said. “But sometimes there are more meaningful ways to acknowledge an anniversary of a war. I think some of the students may not have really cared about the war and just used this as a way to get out of class. We don’t advocate this type of thing because it puts the students at odds with their education, but we are glad they behaved in an appropriate manner.”Brown added that she would have preferred the students begin their protest at 3:10 p.m. when school was dismissed for the day. Los Alamos police officers kept a watchful eye on the protesters from a distance and expressed appreciation for their peaceful behavior. “We respect the students’ constitutional right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly,” Lt. Chuck Ney said. “And we’re glad to see they are doing it in the right way.”School Resource Officer Cpl. Edward said, “These are good kids. I enjoy working with them and also with the kids at the middle school,” he said.During the silent sit-in, LAHS security representative Marie Damitz Bourguet systematically took down each student’s name and said they will all be reported with an unexcused absence for the noon-2 p.m. period they were out of class. “I’m writing down the names of the kids here for safety reasons and to make their parents aware that they are not in class right now,” said Bourguet, who also is a bus driver.Senior Christine DuBois participated in the anti-war demonstration with her mother’s blessing. “These are good kids and I wanted to support what they’re doing,” said Terry DuBois, who took part in the silent protest with her daughter. “I’m supporting my daughter with whatever consequences are going to happen. I really admire these students for doing this.”Bourguet watched over a similar event last year and said, “There are a lot more students participating in this demonstration then there were last year. There are even some kids here who graduated last year.”Kyle Martinez is a 2007 LAHS graduate who now attends Santa Fe Community College. “I came here today specifically because I believe peace is an important thing to achieve in our world today and not a lot of people know it can be achieved,” Martinez said.Similar anti-war demonstrations were held at some high schools and many college campuses across the nation Wednesday. Local students ended their protest lined up along the sidewalk facing Diamond Drive holding flowers, flashing peace signs and raising anti-war slogans including, “Peace is Power,” “War does not determine who is right – only who is left,” “There is no ‘way’ to peace – ‘peace’ is the way,” “Support the troops – bring them home” and “Love thy neighbor – Jesus.”Superintendent James Anderson happened to drive by at that time and saw the students. “The kids were all lined up and many cars passing by seemed to honk in agreement with the peace signs they were holding up,” Anderson said. “The kids seemed to be very peaceful and organized and I thought it was a good thing that they can express their feelings in that way and I thought it was okay. No matter how you feel about the war and how we got there or how long it’s been, I thought it was good that our kids were engaged.”