Defying calls from campaign leaders and principals to stay in school and ignoring the unwelcoming weather, more than 10,000 young people walked off campuses around Los Angeles and Orange counties Wednesday in the largest showing yet of student opposition to Proposition 187.
From the quad of Fullerton College to a side street in South-Central Los Angeles, the teen-agers were mostly peaceful as they marched in rivers of plaid, T-shirts and jeans under the watchful eyes of law enforcement officials in both counties.
There was only one report of significant unruliness--in Compton, where 12 arrests were made--and in many cases police asked school officials to furnish buses and successfully persuaded weary students to return to their campuses, often miles away. But sometimes the officers underestimated adolescent stamina and found themselves tracking roving bands of students through neighborhoods.
In Orange County, students marched off campuses or demonstrated in Fullerton, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.
By far the largest demonstration in the county took place at Fullerton College, where more than 500 students from at least nine high schools gathered for more than four hours to march and hear speeches.
Under police escort, the group marched from the college campus down Harbor Boulevard into neighboring Anaheim chanting "No on 187!" and "La Raza Unida! Jamas Sera Vencida!" which means, "Latinos United! Will never be defeated!"
"This is a worthy cause," said 15-year-old Pablo Salcedo, a sophomore from Loara High School in Anaheim. "Prop. 187 is like a death penalty; may as well just have a big war and throw the bomb on us."
Added 15-year-old J.J. Zazueta from Brea-Olinda High: "It's not the kids' fault the parents brought them here. Why should they be kicked into the streets?"
As with previous student protests, there was no indication that the widespread walkouts had been organized by the formal anti-187 campaigns. Most of the official groups had joined teachers and parents in urging students to stay in school and stage sit-ins or political forums.
Instead, Wednesday's walkout appeared to be the result of a variety of efforts to coordinate the sporadic school protests that have flared up in recent weeks.
On radio talk shows, activists with the One Stop Immigration and Educational Center, who organized a major march in Downtown Los Angeles last month, had called for a widespread walkout on Nov. 2. At the behest of worried parents the center rescinded its call.
But, fueled by media reports and continued support for walkouts by a new statewide anti-187 student coalition, individual campus leaders pushed forward with their preparations.
"We felt that nobody else should speak for the students and tell us not to do it," said Angel Cervantes, organizer of the statewide student group and a Claremont Graduate School student.
Student organizers at San Pedro High School said Wednesday they lured 150 classmates out of school by passing out flyers earlier this week. They and other student leaders said they will ask fellow students to walk out again before Election Day on Tuesday in a bid to defeat Proposition 187, which would bar illegal immigrants from schools and other public services.
In San Juan Capistrano, about 200 students from South County campuses rallied Wednesday outside school district headquarters.
As a handful of sheriff's deputies watched, the students cheered and chanted for about 15 minutes. Some held signs, while a few waved Mexican flags.
Valentin Mendoza, a 19-year-old Saddleback College student, said the protest was supported by some parents. Students had skipped classes at Dana Hills High School, Capistrano Valley High School and Marco F. Forster Middle School, he said, some of them with parental permission.
In Huntington Beach, about 150 students marched the four miles between Ocean View and Huntington Beach high schools.
And in Anaheim, about 200 seventh- and eighth-graders from South Junior High walked out of class, "wandered around a little, got tired and went home," said Anaheim Sgt. Richard Zschoche.
Santa Ana school officials, moving to prevent rumored walkouts at their four high schools, organized on-campus discussions at lunchtime Wednesday.
"This is a hot political issue, but we didn't want them to break the rules," said geography teacher George Aguirre, who organized a forum at Century High School. "It's encouraging that they are politically involved with the democratic process, but we don't want them out there ditching class and sending the wrong message."
The discussions were attended by about 500 students at Santa Ana High and 350 at Century High, school officials said.
Despite these efforts, more than 200 students from Century and Saddleback high schools decided to risk suspension by walking out. The students converged at Main Street and Edinger Avenue about 11:30 a.m., said Police Lt. Dave Petko.
"They walked out of class and walked around a bit," Petko said. "It was more like an organized ditch day."
About 30 students at Newport Harbor High School in Newport Beach were allowed to demonstrate in front of the school during their lunch break. The boisterous group held up signs asking passing motorists to honk if they were opposed to the measure.
Assistant Principal Lee Gaeta, who monitored the demonstration, said, "These are great kids. They are just expressing their opinion."
During Wednesday's protests it became clear that some officials and more established groups have jumped on the student-enthusiasm bandwagon:
* At Los Angeles City Hall, council members Richard Alarcon and Jackie Goldberg left a meeting to address the students milling outside. At a protest rally in Long Beach, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti compared Proposition 187 to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
* When an estimated 700 University High School students reached the Federal Building around 10 a.m., the Peace and Freedom party candidate for governor, Gloria La Riva, greeted them with sound equipment and a speech.
* Literature passed out at City Hall, where about 1,000 teen-agers from nearby Belmont High and the Downtown Business High School joined forces, included flyers from organized labor and from the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade encouraging walkouts.
* At the Van Nuys Civic Center, where about 600 students from Birmingham, Grant and Van Nuys high schools and Sepulveda Middle School converged, students were given anti-187 signs produced by Californians United Against Prop. 187, and listing a 900 number for more information at a cost of $5 a call. Grant student Felix Jimenez, 19, said he photocopied the signs on his own and handed them out.
* Accompanying 200 Jordan High School students on their trek through Southeast Los Angeles were five members of the Latin American Truckers Assn., who passed out flyers demanding the right of the United Transport Workers Union of America to organize and bargain with the Santa Fe Railway Co.
The rowdiest and longest demonstration took place in Compton, where at least three groups from several schools--each containing 300 to 400 students and others--marched through the city beginning at 8 a.m., some of them throwing rocks, eggs and bottles at police officers.
During the six-hour march, the groups converged in the parking lot of a Vons supermarket and launched a sit-down demonstration that blocked store and parking lot entrances, according to Compton police Capt. Steven Roller.
Demonstrators broke store windows, frightened store employees, threw trash and vandalized police cars before 80 Compton officers, assisted by 50 sheriff's deputies, dispersed the crowd, Roller said.
Twelve people--all but one of them juveniles--were arrested and there was an unconfirmed report of one injury.
In response to the widespread student walkouts, the LAPD went on a tactical alert at 11 a.m. Wednesday, allowing commanders greater flexibility in keeping officers on duty beyond their shifts and redeploying police to areas where needed.
"Anytime you have large groups of people out--I don't care whether it's a protest like this or some kind of celebration on the beach--experience tells us the potential for some kind of a disturbance is always there, and we should be prepared for it," said Lt. John Dunkin, an LAPD spokesman.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina plans to go on Spanish-language television today to urge students to remain calm, an aide said Wednesday.
"Whichever way the vote on 187 goes, we want people to put their energies into more constructive types of things," said Robert Alaniz, spokesman for Molina.
The protests drew onlookers out to their porch stoops and office foyers and reactions were varied, as the opinion polls showing great disagreement among voters would predict.
In South-Central Los Angeles, several hundred youngsters from Carver Middle School walked out in mid-morning and refused to board buses provided by school officials to return to campus. Police followed as the students broke into smaller groups and ran down side streets. Most were fenced in near East 48th Street and Avalon Boulevard.
"This is what the suburban people who support this proposition don't understand, that this is what's going to happen if it passes," said Alfred Rowe, heading home after watching the students finally leave on buses. "We already had one riot down here. We don't need another,"
Meanwhile, both sides of the Proposition 187 campaign began throwing their limited financial resources into advertising.
Taxpayers Against 187, a coalition of statewide organizations opposed to the measure, hit the airwaves in Los Angeles on Wednesday with its first TV ad. The 30-second spot is running on seven TV stations.
On the pro-187 side, two radio ad campaigns have started to supplement Gov. Pete Wilson's TV ads that urge a "yes" vote. Also, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C., lobbying group, has begun running radio spots statewide charging that special interest groups are seeking to defeat the measure.
In another development, U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich attacked the measure as "the wrong remedy." He said illegal immigration could be halted more effectively by going after employers who hire undocumented workers.
Contributing to this story were Times staff writers Beth Shuster, Yvette Cabrera, Aaron Curtiss, Tina Daunt, Paul Feldman, John Glionna, Jon D. Markman, Patrick J. McDonnell, Jean Merl, Julio Moran, Richard C. Paddock and Timothy Williams, and special correspondents Maki Becker, Leslie Berestein, Jon Garcia, Mimi Ko, Mary Moore, Psyche Pascual, Simon Romero, Mark Sabbatini and Eric Slater.