The Fightback, out of Washington D.C. reported March 14th, 2012 that Northwestern High School Principal Edgar Batenga gave five-day suspension to four students, and possibly shorter suspensions to others, for their alleged role in organizing an attempted walkout on March 1, which was billed as a National Day of Action to Defend Public Education.
In a flier entitled “The Students Are Angry!”, the high school students listed some of the concerns which led to their walkout: they concerns were unsanitary conditions and food; large class sizes, commonly with 40-plus students; poor teacher pay and treatment, especially regarding the deportation of Filipino teachers; underfunded programs such as band and ESOL; and an overall environment where “students have pretty much no say in educational policies” (http://mail.aol.com/35736-111/aol-6/en-us/Lite/MsgRead.aspx?folder=NewMail&uid=29265031&seq=0&searchIn=none&searchQuery=&start=0&sort=received&sortDir=descending).
The students codenamed their walkout “Project XBox,”. According to various student accounts it was met by force as administrators. Police blocked doors and prevented students from leaving the school.
Principal Batenga vehemently argued that:
“At no time did any staff members block any doors” (ibid).
To explain what was admittedly a large police presence at the school the day of the walkout Batenga and Corporal Michael Rudinski, Northwestern’s School Resource Officer, said the large police presence at the school that day was a coincidence, nothing more. The police on campus, including the K-9 unit, were “scheduled for a firearms classroom training” (ibids).
“Shouldn’t you let the students know that there’s going to be classes like that?”
The student pointed out that far from having a calming effect, police could escalate things by scaring students (ibid).
A number of students questioned whether they were under some form of lockdown in the school. Is Northwestern “a learning center or is it a jail?” asked a student who transferred from Montgomery County, DC. “I feel as if I’m inmate 441733 with a 2.5 GPA,” said a freshman. “When they see me they don’t see a smile, they just see a GPA… Why is that?” (ibid).
The question wasn’t answered. Instead the mics were cut off and the administration walked off, fifteen minutes before the meeting was scheduled to end. Using Occupy Wall Street’s signature mic check, students continued to address their principal. “Mr. Batenga, listen to your community,” they said. Then they loudly chanted, “Remove the suspensions!”
Thank you to Betty Noel and The Fightback for making this article possible for readers.