April 5, 2006 - Hundreds of students in Northwest public schools walked off campus March 31 and joined in city-wide protests of efforts in Congress to crack down on illegal immigrants.

About 140 Mountain View High School students and 100 Tortolita Middle School students walked out of school March 31 to join downtown protests of proposed immigrant legislation, according to Marana Unified School District estimates.

Across the country, numerous demonstrations have erupted in protest of legislation proposed by lawmakers that pushes for more security along the border with Mexico and harsher punishments for illegal immigrants.

About 2,000 students walked out of schools across Tucson March 31, of which 1,200 were middle school students, according to estimates. Friday was the third straight day of student protesting in Tucson, and similar demonstrations have been ongoing in Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Diego.

The students left Mountain View and Tortolita at about 8:30 a.m. and marched south on Thornydale Road, said Jill Atlas, Mountain View principal.

At the intersection of Thornydale and Ina roads, the students boarded city buses and told school officials they were headed for downtown Tucson to join the larger student protests there, Atlas said.

Tamara Crawley, spokeswoman for the Marana School District, said students walking off campus to protest immigrant legislation will be subject to disciplinary action.

"We provide students the opportunity to meet and express their opinions in a peaceful manner on campus, and still they chose to leave. That will be an unexcused absence," Crawley said.

Atlas said students had contacted her as early as March 28 regarding the planned walkout protests.

"We encouraged them to understand that they cannot disrupt the educational environment, and so they decided to leave in-between classes," Atlas said.

Although the student protestors intended to walk out despite the fact they would be held accountable by the school administration, the students were nevertheless willing to work with administration in planning the walkout.

"We were concerned that many students would leave as an excuse to ditch school, not knowing or caring what it was about. So before they left, the students who intended to walk out gathered in the stands of the football field, and the organizers explained the issues to them. After that, about half decided not to participate and went back to class," Atlas said. "The kids were trying to do it the right way, and it was peaceful. When they decided to leave, only the serious students left campus."

Atlas said that although her school has a Hispanic culture club, the walkout participants were white, black and American Indian, as well as Latino, and not limited to members of any particular club.

About 500 of Mountain View High School's 2,161 students are Hispanic, or 23 percent, Crawley said.

Although Atlas said she is unsure exactly how the student walkouts at Mountain View and Tortolita were synchronized, she said the organizers at Mountain View had mentioned to her that they intended to bring along their younger siblings at Tortolita.

"We told them that if they went to another school campus, they would be arrested," Atlas said.

Tortolita Principal Jane D'Amore declined to comment on the student walkout.

Canyon Del Oro High School experienced a brief student walkout when a group of 30 students walked off campus during lunchtime, only to return within a half hour.

"It may have been their way to show support," said Bob Wendel, CDO assistant principal. "I don't think it was representing any particular organization. It probably was most of our Hispanic students, but it wasn't anything too organized."

When asked if there was a student walkout at Ironwood Ridge High School, Principal Sam McClung declined to comment.

Crawley said there was no student walkout at Marana High School.

A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Dec. 16 has been the primary target and reason for the nationwide protests. If signed into law, the proposal would make living in the United States illegally a felony, create 700 miles of fence along the border, deputize local police to enforce immigration law and increase the penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers.

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