As has been happening all around Montgomery County, on Wednesday hundreds of high school students from the Germantown area walked out of school during their lunch period in hopes of sending a message of love and inclusion. The students also took to the streets to express their displeasure with the election of Donald Trump as president last week.
The walkout had been brewing in area schools. On Monday about 30 to 40 students at Northwest High School walked out of school during lunch to the Northwest football field and chanted anti-Trump slogans.
Wednesday’s protest started shortly after 11:30 am, just at lunch periods were beginning, students at Seneca Valley High School walked out the gymnasium doors holding signs and chanting, “Not my President.”
The group of roughly 60 students walked off campus and turned left walking down the sidewalk on Wisteria Drive. The Seneca Valley School Resource Officer from the MCPD walked along with them making sure they stayed on the sidewalk.
A few minutes later and two miles south on Great Seneca Highway, a large group of 50-60 students began walking out of their lunch period at Northwest High School.
As the group from Seneca Valley approached the intersection of Wisteria Drive and Great Seneca Highway, they were met with a number of officers from MCPD 5th District who did not stop them, but stopped traffic at the intersection to ensure that all the student protesters safely crossed the street as they began the two-mile march down Great Seneca Highway to Northwest.
Some students held signs reading, “Love Love Love” and “Hate is Not a Maryland Value” they chanted “No Justice, No Peace” and “Hey, Hey! Ho, Ho! Donald Trump has Got to Go!!” The peaceful protest proceeded down Great Seneca Highway, and police officers assured their safe passage through intersections, including Clopper Road. The students remained on the sidewalk and were respectful of the police.
“I am walking because Trump is a racist,” said Seneca Valley student Shymack Frazier. “He talks about grabbing females by their private parts, and I have a little sister and I don’t want her growing up in his world.”
The two groups of students joined at the intersection of Great Seneca Highway and Richter Farm Road, and after some indecision as to where to go from there, it was decided that the protest would continue south down Great Seneca Highway. The highway was shut down by MCPD at Mateny Road as the protest crossed from the Northwest sidewalk to the McDonalds side of the road because the sidewalk ended.
As the group began to walk down the hill on Great Seneca Highway, about two-thirds of the Seneca Valley students who had already walked two-and-half miles began to turn back and peel off from the main group. However, further down the road, the group merged with a third group of 10 or so students from Quince Orchard High School.
At times the protest shut down traffic on Great Seneca Highway and its cross streets as students reached intersections, but it was MCPD that was stopping traffic not the students. There was no time when it looked like protesters had even attempted to be intentionally disruptive to traffic as part of the demonstration. They were peaceful and well behaved.
“We are protesting for people who are being oppressed and discriminated against, especially since the election,” said Parissa Hai, a junior at Northwest. She said that women and women’s rights were being targeted by Trump supporters and Donald Trump himself. “He is trying to make it harder for [women] to get abortions. But it is their body; it should be their choice.”
“The things that [Trump] has said have really scared people. And people are saying that we have a chance to change the results of the election,” said Hai. “This protest is to give a voice the people that feel that they don’t have a voice. We are giving them a voice.” She was hopeful that the protest will open other people’s eyes and minds and that the protest’s message of inclusion and love will help others who may be afraid to speak up. “We are giving them a voice and letting them know that they will be heard and while we may not live to see the change, a change will happen eventually.”
While there were many students among the protesters who believed that protest was the right thing to do because of the perceived injustice, there were also a number of students there just to get out of class for the afternoon. When asked, two students said they were only there to get out of school.
And at least one was a supporter of the president-elect. Samuel Tebi said he was a student at Quince Orchard who had been a supporter Donald Trump. “I am here because I wanted to see what these guys do. I had heard that they were going to try to shut down the highway and wanted to see if they actually would do it.” Great Seneca Highway was never shut down by the protest.
As they marched along the sidewalk past the trees in Seneca Lake State Park, they chanted “Love Trumps Hate” and “Not My President” as officers from MCPD kept traffic at least one lane away from the protesters. Motorists could see small clusters of former-demonstrators who had decided they’d protested enough waiting at bus stops along Great Seneca Highway for rides back to Germantown.
The main group walked to the intersection of Quince Orchard Road in Gaithersburg, where they gathered on the southwest corner, and chanted. And two hours after the protest began it was ended. In all about 200 students participated in the walkout at various times during the demonstration.
On Monday evening, Montgomery County Public Schools put out a statement saying “MCPS Regulation JFA-RA, Student Rights, and Responsibilities, states that students have a right to assemble for discussions of issues of importance to them and to demonstrate peacefully.” The statement went on to say, “Students who choose to exercise these rights during school hours are strongly encouraged to remain on school property when engaging in these activities so that we can ensure their safety and security. Students who were absent from classes as part of [a] demonstration will be marked as unexcused; parents may send in a note to reverse the unexcused absence.”
Also on Monday, Superintendent of Schools for MCPS Dr. Jack Smith released a statement saying in part, “Now that the election is over, it is our job to restate our core values as a school system—demonstrating that we respect and care for every person in our community. First and foremost, we must reassure our staff and students that our school buildings are safe places where we truly value and respect every single individual and do not tolerate bullying or hate speech. The diversity of our community and the many cultures, languages, and religions that make up our school system continues to be our greatest strength. We are better when we all work together, learn together, and listen to each other.”
On Tuesday night, Northwest Principal Jimmy D’Andrea sent home an email to parents informing them of the possibility of walkout protests. “As you are aware, there have been a number of demonstrations throughout the country in recent days in response to last week’s elections. A very small percentage of our students participated in a peaceful demonstration on school grounds yesterday, and it has come to our attention that there may be additional demonstrations in the coming days.”
In the email, D’Andrea reinforced the MCPS policy that off-campus protest during school hours would result in unexcused absences. He also asked parents to discuss the protests. “I encourage you to talk with your children about your expectations regarding their class attendance if there are additional demonstrations in the coming days.”
Superintendent Smith reassured parents that MCPS has counselors available to help students and families. “Our schools are a resource for families as well. Counselors are available to help students process any concerns or feelings they have about the election. Curricular resources have been provided to assist teachers in discussing the election.”
Top: Students from Seneca Valley High School walking down Wisteria Road holding signs and chanting to protest the results of last week’s presidential election.
Next: About 60 Seneca Valley High School students took part in the protest.
Next: The demonstrators walked down Great Seneca Highway as MCPD officers ensured that they remained safe at all intersections.
Next: Protesters from Seneca Valley and Northwest High School met up at Great Seneca Highway and Richter Farm Road and continued south along Great Seneca. Here they walk on the sidewalk opposite the Cloppers Mill Shopping Center.
Next: While the protest held up traffic on Great Seneca, it never shut down the highway as some reported was the intent of the demonstration. Officers from the 5th District MCPD were with the students throughout the entire demonstration. Students remained peaceful and respectful of police orders and authority.
Next: Students carried signs and chanted “Not My President” and “No Justice! No Peace!” Here an American flag has been painted over with the words, “No one should live in fear.”
Next: The protest ended at the corner of Great Seneca Highway and Quince Orchard Road about two hours and five miles after it began.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.