Oxnard Students Urged to Boycott
LA Times
April 29, 2006

An elementary school teacher active in Latino causes
expects to anger parents and colleagues but says
immigration is an important issue.
By Catherine Saillant,

Denis O'Leary has taught elementary school students for 17 years in El Rio and was elected to the Oxnard school board in 2004. He's passionate about the education of his students, many of whom come from impoverished immigrant families.

So why is O'Leary one of those rare teachers who wears a tie every day urging students to walk out of classrooms Monday as part of a nationwide boycott?

Because he must, said O'Leary, 46, an Oxnard resident who has long been a voice on civil rights issues affecting Latinos. He is married to a native of Chile, and the couple have three children who are bilingual.

In his opinion, some of the immigration reform proposals being discussed in Congress are so draconian that they will hurt not just illegal immigrants but the whole country.

"I see this as nothing less than a civil rights movement," O'Leary said. "It's down to the grass roots and, yes, I do support the boycott."

O'Leary's stand isn't the official position of the Oxnard school board, and it is inflaming educators who have spent the last week persuading students to stay on campus.

"There are other ways to make a political point without encouraging your kids to walk out of school," said Ojai schools Supt. Tim Baird.

Supt. Jody Dunlap, who heads up Oxnard's high schools, said she worries about students getting hurt while unsupervised. Potential problems make advocating walkouts not only irresponsible but conceivably dangerous, she said.

"The classroom is the forum for youngsters to talk about these issues, and I believe that very strongly," Dunlap said.

Schools are expected to be just one area hit hard by Monday's planned boycott and protests. Growers anticipate that Ventura County's $1.4-billion agricultural industry may also experience major work disruptions.

It's the height of the strawberry-picking season, and farmers need every pair of hands they can get, said Rob Roy, president of the Ventura County Agricultural Assn.

Some growers are asking their workers to put in a full day Sunday and then take Monday off, Roy said. Others are planning barbecues and other incentives to reward those who show up Monday.

"It's hard to give them a day off," Roy said. "So the growers are asking that if they do not intend to appear on Monday, to advise the company so they can make arrangements."

Meanwhile, factories, shops, gardeners and cleaning services that employ large numbers of immigrants are making contingency plans.

"I have my bookkeeper coming in on Sunday so she can take Monday off," said a manager at Office Depot in Ventura who asked that his name not be used. "Without her, we can't count the money."

Daylong boycotts of work, schools and commerce are being organized nationwide to demonstrate the effect of immigrants, protest organizers said.

In Ventura County, a coalition of immigrant rights groups are planning several events to coincide with the boycotts. Starting at 8 a.m., a series of workshops called "People's School" will be held at Inlakech cultural center at 937 W. 5th St. in central Oxnard.

The classes will include instruction in immigrants' rights, workers' rights and Chicano art, said Jose Mareno, an organizer. At 5 p.m., protesters will assemble at the cultural center for a five-block march to Plaza Park, where a rally, speeches and entertainment will be held, Mareno said.

Organizers expect at least 1,000 participants for the march and rally, news of which is being spread by radio, fliers and word of mouth, Mareno said. He said the events would be peaceful.

"Our aim is: Don't buy anything, don't go to work or school," he said. "By joining the national boycott, we will show the importance of immigrants to life in Ventura County."