The Napa Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees got an earful Thursday night from parents about last week’s student walkout and protest prompted by the presidential election.
Mothers and fathers criticized as well as praised district and school officials for how the demonstration played out, and what NVUSD did — and did not do — in response.
Hundreds of students from Vintage, Napa, Valley Oak and New Tech high schools left their classes and walked off their campuses on Nov. 10. They marched to Memorial Stadium and held a rally, then some headed downtown.
Parents addressing the school board accused school administrators of supporting, even organizing the walkout and rally, and shirking their responsibilities as educators.
“Regardless of which side you’re on,” said William Kastner, “the school district dodged a huge bullet” because students could have been injured during the protest. No injuries were reported from the event.
Kastner and other parents complained school officials did nothing to keep students on campus. “They made no attempt whatsoever” to stop it from happening, he said.
Another parent, Heidi Ahearne, accused teachers of encouraging students to leave school. “Why are teachers teaching their political opinions?” she asked the school board.
Rachel Clark, who said she monitored the rally, said she saw “a breakoff group” leave the stadium and “say foul things” and behave “inappropriately.”
Clark congratulated students at American Canyon High School for not leaving their campus while participating in their own protest. Instead, they rallied in the school quad starting just before lunchtime.
“Right on,” said Clark. “Good job!”
Other parents showed up Thursday to offer support for the student action and defend the response of NVUSD to the walkout.
“Thank you providing a safe space” for students to voice their opinions, said Kendall Shomura, who identified himself as a former district teacher. “I’m proud of the way” they spoke out.
Shomura said he was glad schools “did not obstruct the walkout.” He was, however, upset that some parents had, according to him, spread lies and false rumors about district and students actions.
He cited one example of social media posts erroneously claiming students had burned American flags during the protest.
High school student leaders also addressed the school board, saying the protest was appropriate and not the work of the school district.
Connor Harris, the school board’s student representative, said the demonstration “was not meant to bash any party, but to take a stand against hate.”
Another student, Vintage senior Kat Schulze, told angry parents they need look no further than her to find out who spearheaded the protest.
“I organized it” along with other students, mostly seniors, she said.
“I’m proud of the rally,” said Schulze, who added the event was good for teenagers’ education. “Meaningful learning doesn’t always happen in a walled space,” she said.
Schulze emphasized the rally was not about the president-elect. “This was not a protest against Republicans or Trump,” she said. “I support him as president.”
She said students wanted to oppose the hateful messages that arose during the campaign — messages that she said were antithetical to her hometown. “Love is what Napa stands for,” she said.
Board President Robb Felder responded to some of the criticism, starting with the accusation that the high schools promoted the demonstration.
“This was not a district organized event,” said Felder. “It was a student led, student organized event.”
He also informed parents that public schools have no legal authority to prevent students from leaving school.
“We do not have the right to force your student to stay on campus,” said Felder.
“We wanted them to stay in the classroom,” he added, but “expressing their civil liberties is their choice.”
NVUSD Superintendent Patrick Sweeney said he was proud of the way his staff and school administrators responded to the protest.
Sweeney also said there was a lesson to learn: the district currently has no protocol in place for handling student demonstrations.
He said that will change soon, as officials intend to meet with local police and others to formulate such a protocol for schools to follow in the future.