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Education

Students Walkout Over Proposed Cuts At Sweetwater Union High School District

Students staged a walkout Tuesday, March 3, 2020, at East Lake High School to protest Sweetwater Union High School District's plan to layoff more than 200 employees to offset a projected $30 million budget deficit.
Kiana Lusk
Students staged a walkout Tuesday, March 3, 2020, at East Lake High School to protest Sweetwater Union High School District's plan to layoff more than 200 employees to offset a projected $30 million budget deficit.

A week after a six-hour school board meeting that ended with the school board approving 237 layoffs, students of Sweetwater Union High School District showed support for their teachers and staff in coordinated walkouts on Tuesday.

The student demonstrations were, for the most part, contained on campus. Students spoke in front of their peers to protest the district's approval to cut 20 counselors, all of the district's librarians and to shutter the Learning Centers, which house alternative education programs for more than 1,300 students.

"These programs that these students are a part of that they’re cutting are for some students all they have, and we want [the district] to acknowledge that," said Cadence Gossler, a student leader at Otay Ranch High School.

She said the Learning Centers were a particular concern at her school.

Cadence Gossler speaks at the student walkout at Otay Ranch High School on Mar. 3, 2020
Courtesy of Cadence Gossler
Cadence Gossler speaks at the student walkout at Otay Ranch High School on Mar. 3, 2020

"They've been proven to be very effective, and for some students, they're the last hope, it's the only way they can graduate," Gossler said.

At Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, students marched out onto their football field to make posters and hear student speakers.

"We want to bring student representation to the situation," said Jake Patton, a student at Mar Vista. "The board needs to understand that the students should be involved in these conversations."

Jake Patton and classmates participate in on-campus walkout on Mar. 3, 2020.
Courtesy of Jake Patton
Jake Patton and classmates participate in on-campus walkout on Mar. 3, 2020.

District spokesman Manuel Rubio said the administration is working to minimize the impact of budget cuts on students.

"We respect and welcome the student voice in this process and will continue to work with students to ensure their input is heard," Rubio said. He said, however, that students voluntarily leaving campus without authorization will be marked as truant.

The district serves about 40,000 students and is the largest high school district in the state. It carries a budget deficit of $30 million, resulting from several years of fiscal mismanagement, miscalculated debts and payroll errors.

"The budget solutions being proposed are still just that — proposals. Across the district all employees have been contributing to these solutions," Rubio said. "If you look at the list of layoff notices, there are 12 management positions on the list — that is about 7% of the entire management team."

The district has until March 13 to distribute layoff notices to employees who might lose their jobs. The district will make final decisions by May 15.