High school students across the city walked out of class and took to the sidewalks and streets Friday, broadcasting messages of both unity and fear after Donald Trump’s election to the presidency.
Chanting “not my president” and “we have a voice,” Omaha Central High School students poured out of the downtown high school Friday morning during a staged walkout.
An estimated 125 Northwest High School students soon followed suit, leaving school midmorning to hold an anti-Trump protest at 90th Street and Military Road. Walkouts occurred at Bryan and South High Schools, too.
At Millard North High School, videos on social media showed students in the cafeteria chanting “love trumps hate,” as another group of students responded with: “Build the wall! Build the wall!”
About a dozen Westside High students also demonstrated after school. Westside spokeswoman Brandi Petersen characterized the protest as peaceful and brief, and said school staff have been answering questions and encouraging open conversations in the classroom.
“We want our kids to be engaged in what’s going on around them,” she said.
As nationwide tensions over the election’s outcome spill into classrooms, school officials have sometimes been called on to act as referees. At Millard North, spokeswoman Rebecca Kleeman said staff stepped in as students went back-and-forth over Trump, and told kids to get to class. Principal Brian Begley sent parents an email about the incident.
Central students called their protest a rally designed to unite the school’s diverse student body around a message of peace and acceptance for all after a bruising election cycle. Students said they came to support groups who felt marginalized by Trump’s campaign rhetoric, such as women, African-Americans, immigrants and the LGBT community.
Junior Eh Ta Ler held a sign that proclaimed “No Place for Hate @ CHS.” He wanted to take a stand for his friends who were immigrants and fear they or their families will now face deportation after Trump’s tough talk about cracking down on illegal immigration.
“I’m here to support other people and other cultures,” he said.
Central students waved American, Mexican and rainbow flags, sang the national anthem and hoisted signs with messages such as “Not My President,” “We Are Stronger Together,” and “We Thank The Veterans That Fought For Our Right To Protest.”
“Most of us are 15, 16, 17 years old,” said junior Nick Koehler. “We feel like we don’t have a say ... By doing this, students have a voice.”
Two Omaha Public Schools administrators estimated that more than 1,000 Central students gathered on the school’s front lawn and sidewalk in front of Dodge Street during homeroom. Kids stayed outside for about one hour, and then headed back to class at the urging of teachers and other students.
Those numbers likely swelled due to an ill-timed fire alarm that triggered a school evacuation. Principal Ed Bennett said fire officials determined the alarm was set off by a faulty sprinkler head, not a student.
School officials stressed that the protest was not school-sanctioned and would result in students being marked truant for missed class time.
Still, Bennett and ReNae Kehrberg, an OPS assistant superintendent, said students generally remained respectful and kept signs and chants free of profanity. Before the protest started, one man brought a large Trump campaign sign with “F--- Trump” spray-painted across it, but moved across the street from the high school.
“Our parents know that we as educators aren’t partisans,” Kehrberg said. “Our job is to support students and keep them safe. We need to guide them and tell them to stay in school.”
Central administrators organized assemblies Thursday as rumors of a walkout spread across social media. There, students were able to share their comments on the election, and school staff discussed the transition of power and the checks-and-balances built into the American political system.
Hillary Clinton won a mock election at the school, although students said there were certainly students who supported Trump.
Senior Marshall Biven said he knew students would receive flak for leaving school and protesting against the man lawfully elected president. But he said he was disappointed at the apathy that drove so many voters to sit out this election.
“This is my government class period,” he said. “What better way to learn about government than to participate in a live protest?”
One Central parent dropped off her child late and witnessed the tail end of the protest. She asked Kehrberg whether the school was behind this.
“I don’t think it’s funny that people are smiling about this,” the woman said. “It’s not cute.”
Police blocked off northbound and southbound lanes of traffic at 90th Street and Blair High Road for about 20 minutes during the Northwest protest, which wrapped up around 11 a.m, as kids headed back to school.
Since Trump’s election, Jeremiah Abol said, many students at Northwest High School, especially black students, have been mad and sad. The 16-year-old junior said many feel Trump represents only rich white people.
“Some people are just scared for the future,” Abol said.
At age 17, seniors Tasja Campbell, Tishara Collins and Makayla Grant couldn’t vote, but said they won’t stay silent.
“This is our voice,” Grant said of the protest. “It wasn’t up to us. We have to deal with him for four years.”
Students got some friendly honks from passing motorists, but at one point, the girls said a man in a black pickup truck stopped, got out, lit a cigarette and called them a racial slur. He told them “we” would put them to work.
They said they tried to ignore him.
Hundreds of Bryan High students marched around on the south end of campus before walking north along 48th Street to Harrison — more than a mile from the front doors of the school — and back.
Bryan is a diverse school, and many protesters were Latino. They cited immigration as a key concern.
The students said they had plenty of naysayers, but those critics were strangers on social media, not their fellow students.
“We’ve had many people disagree with us a lot,” said Dylan Guzman, 17, a senior, who said many of the strangers told them they were too young to have a valid opinion on the election.
“They are telling us to pack our bags,” said Damien Perez, 17, a senior, holding a sign that said “Love Trumps Hate.”
World-Herald staff writers Emily Nitcher and Andrew J. Nelson contributed to this report.