Hundreds of Berkeley High School students skipped their last class Thursday, instead deciding to hold their own rally in support of the March 1 Day of Action just hours before local teachers gathered at the same spot.
Before joining the Berkeley Federation of Teachers demonstration at 4:30 p.m., high school students danced, sang and signed murals in front of Berkeley Unified School District’s administrative offices on 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way to show their support for public education while also speaking out against recurrent budget cuts at the state level.
Though the teachers’ union has held similar rallies in the last five years, the specific purpose of this year’s rally was to urge parents and faculty to sign petitions against Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget cuts, as well as push for the passage of the Millionaires Tax, which would tax the wealthiest Californians to fund the state’s schools and colleges.
“As a senior and child of poverty, I know how important it is to fight against budget cuts,” said Berkeley High School senior Jasmine Hain. “Especially the juniors and seniors feel the urgency … the fight is absolutely not over.”
Between 700 and 800 students were at the rally at its peak around 3 p.m., according to estimates from Berkeley Police Department.
Hain said the Occupy BHS club only had 10 members three weeks ago but has expanded due to the efforts of students coordinating with members of Occupy Cal at UC Berkeley. Hain said that after going class to class to make presentations, many more teachers and students members began expressing their support.
Though sympathetic to the cause, high school principal Pasquale Scuderi said in a message sent to the high school community earlier in the week that students who skipped class would be given an unexcused absence.
John Becker, an English teacher at the high school, was one of many of the district’s staff and administrators who came out to the afternoon rally and spoke, along with others including the district’s superintendent Bill Huyett and board director Beatriz Leyva-Cutler.
“I think (the students) could have joined us afterwards, but it is important for their voice to be heard,” Leyva-Cutler said.