How Texas High School Students Worked With Faculty to Set Terms for Peaceful Protest

Over 50 students walked out of class at McCallum High School this spring. Inside the response to one of the highest-profile student protests.

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This story is syndicated from The Shield, the newspaper of McCallum High School in Austin, TX. The original version of the story ran here.

Students walked out of fourth period today and rallied by the main entrance to protest the presence of law enforcement and the arrest of students at UT Austin’s campus this past week. Organizers created signs and made speeches in support of Palestinians in the Middle East and denounced the repeated Israeli military attacks on Gaza. Several student protesters called it “genocide” during their speeches to the crowd.

Art credit: Lynn-Gabrielle Soivilus

As students yelled chants through a megaphone into a crowd of 50-100 students, administrators and AISD police watched nearby. The increased presence of officers was announced in a message to families yesterday evening by principal Andy Baxa.

Baxa announced in the same email that the school was committed to creating a safe environment for students and that the walkout was not a school-sponsored event.He said he met with organizers before the walkout to discuss parameters for the day’s  event. After the walkout ended, Baxa said he was pleased that the protesters had honored those parameters.

“I had three topics I wanted to cover: where the protest would take place, how to protect the learning environment for those who were still in class, and lastly we talked about free speech versus hate speech,” Baxa said.

Sophomore Beatrix Lozach said she hoped the walkout at Mac would raise student awareness about the events in the Middle East.

“I asked for the megaphone and devised a chant to remind us why we were there,” Lozach said. “I decided to go to the walkout because I consider the persecution of Palestinians by the Israeli government to be abhorrent.”

STANDING UP AND SPEAKING OUT: Freshman Naima Clealand speaks to a crowd of fellow student-activists at the pro-Palestinian walk-out that took place during fourth period of April 29. Clealand recognized many of his peers feeling awkward and unsure of how to behave, which inspired him to step up to megaphone and rally the crowd.

“I wanted to get people inspired and feeling powerful,” Clealand said.

For Clealand, the walk-out was right up his alley.

“I’ve always been a radical person,” he said. “I have a very strong sense of justice and it really sucks to be so far away from this horrible genocide. It is hard not to feel helpless, so I try to do whatever I can.”
Even though Clealand is only a freshmen in high school, he recognizes his ability to exercise his first amendment right.

“People forget that just because we [kids] are young, doesn’t mean that we can’t educate ourselves and speak up for ourselves,” Clealand said. “We are the next generation, so it is important our voices are heard for the world we are coming into.”

Caption by JoJo Barnard. (JoJo Barnard)

Sophomore Nayeli Azul said he hoped that students would take away from the walkout the understanding that they have a powerful voice that can demand change.

 “A lot of the stuff that’s been going on at UT is very disheartening, and it can be really hard to continue when you know that those are the risks,” Azul said. “We as Mac students do not agree with genocide, and we do not support our U.S. government funding that, and we call for the U.S. government to defund, and we call for a ceasefire. What we want is for peace and to use our First Amendment right.”

As the protest continued, students rallied along the perimeter of the school grounds, chanting and waving the flag of Palestine. Close by were two AISD PD vehicles monitoring the students on their march. Students returned to the main entrance before the final bell rang. 

Lozach said she was surprised by the amount of administrative officials outside with the students as well as at least three adult observers but that there was no confrontation between the groups. 

“I would say the administration reacted positively – Principal Baxa had a discussion with me and the organizers after the protest and commended them on the peaceful nature of it,” Lozach said. 

The McCallum walkout was part of a coordinated protest on three Austin ISD campuses: Mac, LASA and Ann Richards. Ann Richards student Maya L., who asked to use the first initial of his last name over safety concerns, was one of the organizers for the day’s event. 

“At my school we did community activities like art making: sidewalk chalk art, face painting and dancing that our students helped teach,” Maya said. “It was lots of fun to see the community I helped bring together laugh and be loud, and it was really more than I was expecting it to be.”

Maya reported that ARS had an estimated 200 students participating in the walkout, which had the goal of standing in solidarity with Palestine.

“To be a part of disruption is something I will always choose and I know we achieved that,” Maya said. “When we did the chants, I made sure that at least the whole neighborhood could hear us.”

Protests at UT’s campus today have made national news as state troopers arrived in riot gear and deployed pepper spray meeting students that have camped out on the south lawn for many days.  When Austin Police and state troopers confronted an even larger crowd of protesters, however, law enforcement backed out and allowed them to continue marching onto the central mall. 

According to the New York Times, at least 50 students were arrested today. The Statesman tonight is reporting the number arrested to be at least 100, and KVUE reported tonight that Travis County “officials have been informed that 100+ protesters may be soon brought to jail.”

The protests on campus began last week and have also caught the attention of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott due to the large number of tents set up on campus lawns. 

“No encampments will be allowed,” said Abbott in a statement. “Instead, arrests are being made.”

Lozach hopes that the walkout will encourage civic participation among high school students and provide an opportunity for teachers to put the current protests in the larger contexts of student protests throughout history. 

“I hope that the walkout resonated with teachers who are afraid to integrate civic responsibility into their subject matter,” Lozach said. “It’s so important for students to know when and how those rights have been taken away for various groups.”

According to multiple KXAN reporters, UT student protesters plan to set up encampments again tomorrow.

Photos by JoJo Barnard, Lillian Gray, Mira Patel, Camilla Vandegrift and Dave Winter. 

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