As many as 20 Herndon High School students walked out of school April 5 in protest of immigration reform, ahead of an anti-immigration protest at the perimeter of the school that was composed of more than 100 participants, according to several school and local police officials.
"[Immigration] is an issue that is very complicated and school is the perfect place for these immigration issues to be discussed," said Paul Regnier, a spokesperson for Fairfax County Public Schools. "However this should not be in demonstrations that are disruptive and certainly not when students leave school grounds."
"Demonstrating is one thing where you have no discussion, so you don't learn about the issue," he said.
THE HERNDON HIGH School walkout and demonstration were the first of the type witnessed by the school, and followed the marches and demonstrations of millions of people in recent weeks throughout the country in protest of a congressional bill that would crack down on illegal immigration.
At about 10:15 a.m. on April 5, approximately 15 to 20 students simultaneously got up and left their classes and walked out of the school, telling school staff that they were leaving campus grounds in protest of immigration reform, according to Herndon High School principal Frances Ivey.
Approximately two hours later, a number of students returned to the school, peacefully demonstrating by chanting against immigration reform for approximately 30 minutes at the perimeter of the school before marching away, according to Fairfax Police spokesperson Beth Funston.
The demonstration may have included the participation of as many as 150 people, according to Regnier.
It was not immediately known if the two events had any connection, where the other demonstrators originated or if the students who staged the walkout were present at the demonstration.
THE HERNDON HIGH School PTSA mailing list was made aware via an email sent from Ivey and county school superintendent Jack Dale early April 5 that students may be planning a demonstration and that parents should remind their children to "remain in the school during the school day."
The email also praised Herndon High School students for showing "great tolerance and understanding at a time when this was must prevalent in our local news," alluding to the county-sponsored day labor site Herndon which has drawn fire from several groups opposed to undocumented immigrants.
It was not made clear how Ivey and Dale learned of the planned demonstration.
After being contacted by Mayor Mike O'Reilly, Ivey arranged for O'Reilly to come in to the school on Thursday to speak with interested students during their lunch hours about voicing political opinions. About 250 students took part in the discussions.
"We want to let students know that they can express their views without breaking the [school's] rules," Ivey said.
"I wanted there to be an opportunity for all of our kids to express their opinions in a positive way and without breaking the school rules," Ivey said. "[Mayor O'Reilly] spoke about how important it is to have a voice and to contact your statesmen."
O'Reilly and Ivey spoke to students about "positive political involvement" and provided each attending student with a list of contact information for Virginia senators George Allen (R) and John Warner (R) as well as congressional representative Frank Wolf (R-10).
"[Political involvement] is great and [immigration debate] is important — and students should be made aware of it and be involved in it," O'Reilly said.
"I talked to them generally about how to positively influence political decisions by writing politicians," he said. "I wanted to help get their energy funneled into positive action."
Regnier and Ivey said that the school will continue to encourage discussion of immigration in appropriate classes.
Similar protests have occurred at high schools throughout Fairfax County over the past two weeks, Regnier said.
Police did not have any complaints of criminal activity related to the demonstrators and nobody had to be detained, according to Funston. Responding officers from the Fairfax County Police Department said the protesters were peaceful and did non block traffic, Funston added.
The students who walked out of school will be given unexcused absences, which could result in after-school detentions, Ivey said.