Providence students defend plan to walk out of class during inauguration

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Organizers of a planned student protest during school hours on Friday say although they weren’t allowed to cast a vote in November’s election, they still deserve to have their voices heard.

Groups including the Providence Student Union, Youth in Action and PrYSM are involved in the walkout, and three Classical High School students spoke to Eyewitness News on Wednesday about the plan to leave class to protest.

“We are going to be the ones experiencing the future and the after-effects of Donald Trump’s presidency,” Jayleen Salcedo said. “So we decided that we need to stand up as students and show our opinion.” Salcedo said the plan began to form the day after the election, when students at the Providence Student Union were commiserating over the results.

Salcedo says students plan to walk out of class at 11:08 on Friday, during the inauguration, and will march to the State House for a rally. She says about 150 Classical High students have said they will participate, though she hopes more students will see the walkout and join in. The bell to signal the end of class will ring two minutes after the walkout, which means students will be in the hallways to witness their classmates leave the building.

Students from the city’s other high schools are slated to walk out of class as well, Salcedo said, and will meet at the State House.

Providence Public Schools spokesperson Laura Hart urged students not to participate in the demonstration Wednesday, and asked parents to speak to their children about it.

“This walkout is not an event that the district has sanctioned,” she said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “Our message is to stay in school on Friday.” She said it would be a better idea for students to conduct their protest after school.

Hart said students who leave school will receive an unexcused absence. The school is not equipped to physically stop them from leaving, she said, and more serious punishments will not be handed out.

For students marching, the risk of a mark against their record is worth it, if it means getting a chance to speak their minds. Latifat Odetunde, a Classical High junior, said she feels adults don’t take the political opinions of teenagers seriously.

“I actually feel that they take us as a joke,” Odetunde said. “But with this walkout we will be creating history, and hopefully they will see that our voice does matter.”

The students said the primary reason for protesting Trump’s swearing-in is because of statements he made on the campaign trail about women and minorities.

“He has many racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic comments and policies,” junior Virginia Georgiev said.

Classical High School students are taking midterms this week, but the student organizers say they’ve been assured by teachers that they can take Friday’s exams on Monday.

Hart said teachers or faculty who walk out of school will be disciplined.