Some eighth grade students planned a peaceful sit-in at Martin Murphy Middle School during lunchtime at the basketball courts on campus, but changed their minds.
Friday, students were to protest the lack of a graduation or promotion ceremony which was cut last May 2011 from both Martin Murphy and Britton middle schools to save money.
Students organized the sit-in efforts through Facebook and text messaging each other the night before, according to some parents of the students.
After speaking with students, Principal Joey Adame said he “defused” the situation and the students themselves decided not to protest.
He said he then made an announcement to inform the rest of the students of the decision.
“I pulled some of the kids that I knew were for sure were forwarding the (text) messages,” said Adame. “They can’t violate Education Code.
Adame confiscated some students cell phones Friday, said Emily Whitehead, a Martin Murphy eighth grader.
“Mr. Adame did take away our cell phones…. but gave them back to us after school,” said Whitehead through email Monday.
She said he took them without giving the students a reason why. According to the Martin Murphy Middle School Handbook, cell phones are allowed at school yet cannot be turned on until the end of the school day.
Students planned to sit-in during lunchtime which begins at 12:36 p.m. and/or into fifth period class, which starts after lunch at 1:06 p.m.
Whitehead said after lunch, the eighth graders made their way to the basketball courts to continue with their protest anyway, but “Mr. Adame was waiting there and told everyone to go back to class,” she said.
Regina Aboud parent of an eighth grader, said she would have supported her child if she got suspended because of protesting. Aboud said other parents have offered to fundraise and pay for a ceremony themselves yet they were told no by the school.
Whitehead said students did not want to stop the sit-in and were “threatened” by Adame, a former police officer for Butte County and the Gridley Police Department.
“Friday morning, Mr. Adame had pulled certain kids off the bus, he pulled those off that were involved with first sending the massive text. He had threatened the 8th graders: ‘I am very disappointed with all you 8th graders. Whoever goes and sits out, will be suspended, they wont go to the 8th grade field trip nor will they be able to join the ceremony that we will be holding,’ “ wrote Whitehead, Chandler Laisure and Austin Fiak in an email to the Times.
Executive director of the First Amendment Coalition Peter Scheer said the principal was within his rights.
“Any protest activity, no matter how peaceful, inherently is disruptive. That’s the point of a protest by definition. Anything that is minimally disruptive of school activities probably takes outside of constitutional protection,” said Scheer.
Scheer said the scope of protection under the Constitution is much less on school grounds because of the disruption of normal school activity. He said although students do not give up all of their First Amendment rights, they do “give up a lot of them,” especially those that are younger. He said the strongest case could be made for a completely silent and peaceful protest after or before school.