About 35 percent of the students enrolled in Santa Barbara’s K-12 schools skipped school Monday as part of a boycott protesting a proposed tough law on illegal immigration.
The mass no-show prompted some South Coast school administrators to ratchet up their public disapproval of students missing school to make a political statement on this issue.
Santa Barbara schools Superintendent Brian Sarvis said the boycott — about 5,580 of the schools’ 16,000 chairs were empty — cost the district thousands of state tax dollars and sends the wrong message to the public.
“I think it does harm to their message,” he said. “If they are telling the community this is really important to them, and the community sees they are not serious about being in school, it really mitigates the message.”
Although the no-show was large, the turnout of students who participated in student rallies scheduled during the school day was relatively sparse.
While students had planned a 13-mile procession from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta to downtown Santa Barbara, Principal Quentin Panek said nobody showed.
But at San Marcos High, about 70 students embarked on a 6.5-mile pilgrimage down Hollister Avenue all the way to Santa Barbara City Hall with Principal Craig Morgan at the rear to ensure safety.
“I know some people don’t think it’s the right thing to do — especially skipping school,” said senior Anna Narciso, who came to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents when she was in preschool.
“But it does make an impact. . . . America is built on immigration. I don’t know how they can say we shouldn’t be here to make a better life when their descendants did the same thing.”
Enthusiasts and organizers of the boycotts also spoke up for the kids who stayed home, saying their seats didn’t remain empty in vain.
“The message it sends out is, ‘I’m here, I’m not invisible. And I deserve a stake or a place at the table, not just for the scraps,’ ” said Carlos Cohen, a college-level history teacher at San Marcos High who used a bullhorn to lead a chant on the steps of Santa Barbara City Hall Monday.
“It will show that another group has asked for their place at the table. This is America.”
Of Santa Barbara’s 20 regular schools, the one with the highest absentee rate was McKinley Elementary, at 63 percent. The school with the lowest was Open Alternative, with 12 percent gone.
Empty seats and quiet hallways were the order of the day from Carpinteria to Santa Maria.
Interestingly, in Santa Maria’s K-12 schools, where three-quarters of the student population is Latino, a smaller proportion of students stayed home — 30 percent — than in Santa Barbara, where roughly half the K-12 student body is Latino.
In a classroom at Santa Barbara Junior High, just three of 21 students showed up to Ruben Gil’s English class for English learners.
“We just spent some time dialoguing, watching CNN part of the time, and just talking about what it felt like for them to be in school when so many of their friends weren’t,” he said.
“They had trouble verbalizing what they were feeling, but basically they felt weird.”
Many of the marching students said they felt they were making a sacrifice for a higher cause. San Marcos High School junior Jose Aldapa said he’s trying hard to keep his grades up so he can attend college, and the unexcused absence will hurt him.
“Teachers are really asking me to do better on my test scores,” he said, speaking over the blare of a bullhorn and the chants from the crowd on Santa Barbara Street around 1 p.m.
Jose fondly described his parents’ rise from dish-washing Mexican immigrants 23 years ago to registered nurses today.
“They’re living their dream,” he said.
In Carpinteria, where one in three students didn’t go to school, Superintendent Paul Cordeiro shared Mr. Sarvis’ disappointment, saying the boycott was tantamount to “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
“Inasmuch as we appreciate people expressing themselves politically, we are saddened that schools have to be the target of this,” he said.
“Schools aren’t businesses; they don’t pass on their costs. Schools just lose money and make it harder to be a good school.”
Santa Barbara school officials said the boycott cost the district about $4,400 in state tax dollars — the equivalent of 67 textbooks — because the state pays the local school district based on daily headcounts.
In the North County, students at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School opted to stay in class Monday, but after school was over, more than 125 showed their support by marching more than two miles into the city of Solvang.
They carried a large white banner that proclaimed, “We value our education and our freedom of speech. We attended classes today.”
About 50 Latino students chose not to attend school Monday, but Principal Norm Clevenger said he wouldn’t know until today how many of those would be excused, rather than truants.
The marching students, joined by some parents, community members, teachers and younger children, all wore white clothing as a show of solidarity and peace.
Sixteen-year-old Maria Gallegeos spent a few minutes before the march preparing her sign, which depicted a photo of author Carlos Fuentes and the quote: “What the United States does best is to understand itself. What it does worst is understand others.”
“I like what it says,” Maria said.
“It is everything happening right now. The U.S. doesn’t understand us. By doing this (march), I’ll make them understand.”
In Lompoc, about one in three students — or 3,000 — missed school. Lompoc Superintendent Frank Lynch said that’s about three times the absentee rate of a normal day.
Generally, the proportion of absent students at any given school district was directly related to its demographic makeup. In Guadalupe, where 94 percent of the students are Latino, about four in 10, or 400 of the district’s 1,000 students, didn’t come to school.
But in the three-school Hope elementary district off of upper State Street, where seven in 10 students are white, fewer than 2 percent of the chairs — or 26 total — were bare, Hope Superintendent Gerrie Fausett said.
News-Press staff writer Nora Wallace contributed to this report.