Hundreds skip school to attend immigration rally
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 10, 2006

Josh Kelley

As tens of thousands rallied for immigrants' rights in Phoenix on Monday, hundreds of Mesa Public school students skipped class in areas of the city with large concentrations of Latino residents.

The Mesa Public Schools District, the state's largest, had 18 schools report higher than average absentee rates in the western and southern portions of Mesa, said district spokeswoman Kathy Bareiss.

At least four junior high schools had a few hundred absences, including one with 400. Lowell Elementary School reported 285 absences, according to Principal Sandi Kuhn.

Nearly 90 percent of students at Lowell are Hispanic.

One Mesa high school reported 250 students out of class, which is more than usual, said Bareiss, who declined to give the names of schools that reported high absentee numbers.

After lunch, parents began picking their children up from school early, apparently to take part in the immigration rally and march in Phoenix, Bareiss said.

"We appreciate that the parents understood our message that school was important and allowed their child to be in school the majority of the day," Bareiss said.

A handful of students at Taylor Junior High left school shortly after arriving.

"On the staff side, we did not see any more shortages than normal," Bareiss said.

Two weeks ago, dozens of Mesa students, many from junior highs, left class to march through the streets of Mesa in protest of state and federal immigration policies.

But on Monday, all was quiet in Mesa, said police Sgt. Jim Schweisthal, who supervises some of the Police Department's school resource officers.

He said Mesa, Kino and Powell junior high schools appeared to have a large number of absentees on Monday.

Latino student leaders are having a big influence on other students when deciding whether to leave or skip school, Schweisthal said. Some student leaders are questioning whether leaving school to protest is the responsible way to effect change, Schweisthal said.

In Apache Junction, Desert Shadows Middle School had 100 absences more than average, and Apache Junction High School was up 73 absences, said school district spokeswoman Carol Shepherd.

Some elementary schools had more absences than usual in the Apache Junction area, but illness and a late start time on Monday possibly contributed to decreased attendance, Shepherd said.

Reporter JJ Hensley contributed to this article.