There's a student movement brewing in the schools hardest hit by budget cuts. The movement's L.A. Unified epicenter is now the Santee Learning Complex just south of downtown Los Angles.

A couple of weeks ago hundreds of students from the high school refused to enter their first period classes and instead marched peacefully a couple of miles north to the 29-story school district headquarters on 3rd and Beaudry streets.

On their way they chanted slogans like, "Students united will never be defeated!" They were there to protest the planned layoff of thousands of teachers to close a looming budget deficit. Schools in poor neighborhoods, like Santee, stand to be hit the hardest by these layoffs. You see, the first teachers on the chopping block are the ones with just a few years of experience. And in working class, immigrant neighborhoods like the one around Figueroa and Washington streets near Santee High School that's a large portion of the teaching corps. Administrators would fill some of the jobs but class sizes are expected to balloon no matter how the cuts are carried out.

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Many of the students had a hard time articulating what the protest was all about. As tenth grader Gilbert Esteem, an African American student with bouncy natural, put it, the rally was to, "Not give us pink slips and stave our funds." Maybe it was just a mix up of terminology. He was a reluctant protestor. "I wanted to go to school but I got caught up. It was too late for me to go inside, so I just went."

Most other students understood clearly how teacher pink slips would affect them and younger students. Eleventh grader Wendy Campos credits a teacher two years ago for turning her around, "One of my favorite teachers is getting laid off and I don't think it's fair because I think she's a really, really good teacher. Ms. Reagan, she was our history teacher in the 9th grade. I was a slack-off in freshman year but something about her captivated me to learn more. She made classes interesting for me, you know. I actually focused and I passed the class with an A."

Marshall Tuck, the CEO of the Partnership for L.A. Schools, the non profit started by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaragosa to run Santee and nine other campuses, hovered over students in a suit and tie. At one point rushing to stop students from pushing an L.A. Dash bus. The Partnership, he said, agrees with the protest but not the walkout, "We've been telling them, we're on the same side."

The students sat on a patch of grass in the shadow of the 29 story building. Leaders spoke to students with bullhorns borrowed from Union del Barrio, the San Diego-based Mexican self-determination organization. Union's Association of Raza Educators has three statewide chapters. Several Santee High School teachers lead the Los Angeles group.

School district superintendent Ramon Cortines showed up to speak to students and engaged in a ten minute bull session with Santee High 12th grader Christian Lopez. Their uneven discussion ranged from budgets to school district politics.


Christian Lopez: "Are you OK with teachers protesting, then? Because it was the teachers who were going to do something on Friday, right?"

Ramon Cortines: "Let me tell you, I was at a school on Friday, the teachers protested before school. They protested after school, everything."

Ninth grader Ana Lozada, a fashion design student with dramatic, thick, Cleopatra eye makeup and lip and nose piercings, said these students were mostly the sons and daughters of immigrants. She and a friend held up signs saying "No More Pink Slips" and "Cuts Hurt Kids!!!"

These are the students who watched in middle school several years ago as their older brothers and sisters walked out of high school campuses and their parents and other relatives took over the streets of Los Angeles to demand immigration reform.

Korrine Robinson, a Santee Senior, preached to her fellow students about their communal role in the struggle to protect public education, "If you can draw, if you can skate, if you can write, if you can sing, if you can act, I don't know, make a play about it. Draw something, tag up a wall, do something, find a solution to what we can do."

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