Students picket outside H.B. High

More than a dozen Huntington Beach High School students have protested in front of campus this week against what the leaders called an overemphasis on grades and assignments and a failure by teachers to encourage independent thought.

The students, some of whom have skipped class for the demonstrations, gathered by the school at 1905 Main St.

Juniors Rafael DeCamargo and Chris Casey and sophomore Canyon Stewart said they began the protest Monday morning and other students joined as the day progressed.

Several protesters said they planned to gather outside the school every day for the rest of the week. By refusing to attend class, they said, they hoped to send a message to the administration.

"I think this is more important than the material," Rafael said Monday when asked if he worried about his grades suffering as a result of a week-long truancy.

The group had two handwritten picket signs, one reading, "Will work for change — I refuse to be a sheep," and the other reading, "I want an education, not a grade — I refuse to be silent." Students took turns holding the signs and waving them at passing drivers, who sometimes honked.

Among the protesters' complaints, according to Rafael and Chris, were that teachers put too much emphasis on memorization and tests, that classroom discussions didn't encourage students enough to think independently and that the school put too little emphasis on students' post-graduation career plans.

Some solutions, Rafael said, would be to give students more of a hand in shaping classroom discussions and to make class participation the most important part of a grade. He noted that he got the idea for the protest last week after he wrote a paper for class about his theories on education and some of his teachers encouraged him to demonstrate.

Principal Janie Hoy, however, came out to talk to the demonstrators Monday and said afterward that they might want to rethink their strategy.

"I said, 'So what are your concerns, you guys?'" Hoy said. "It was in regards to, one said, grades. One was saying, 'We're being judged on our performance, not necessarily our ability,' and I would imagine when they said 'judged,' [they meant] 'graded.' That was about the gist of what I got.

"I said, 'At the same time, you're missing class, and how will that affect your performance?' There wasn't a whole lot of thought about how that was going to play out."

Hoy added that she had toured a series of classrooms Monday and found students actively engaged in discussions and faculty members not trying to stymie creativity. At one point, she said, she observed the Model United Nations planning an upcoming trip to UCLA.

"To me, it's not as stifling as what students are stating on the sidewalk," Hoy said.

Rafael, who wore a faded Rolling Stones T-shirt and sunglasses to the demonstration, said he doesn't plan to attend college and plans to find "any kind of hands-on job" to support himself while he pursues a music career. Canyon also said he's undecided about college, while Chris plans to become a teacher.

Hoy said many of the protesters may have joined after their school day ended, as many students did not have a sixth-period class. She said, though, that the school had phoned some parents to let them know their children were absent from classes.

"I hope the students will be in class tomorrow, because we're coming up to a three-day weekend, and then we're off for Thanksgiving week," Hoy said Monday. "That's a lot of time out of the classroom."

Rafael said his group remained outside the school Tuesday and Wednesday and planned to picket Thursday as well. The school has Friday off for Veterans Day.

About 20 students joined the protest Tuesday at lunch, according to Rafael.

"Every day, it seems to get bigger, even if it's just by one or two people," he said.

michael.miller@latimes.com

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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