DANBURY, Conn. — At about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, 17-year-old Shaun Williams was standing by the main entrance of Danbury High School when he saw a crowd gathering.
“People were holding their phones up and then a whole bunch of them left the building. I got pushed outside along with them,” he said of the peaceful walkout involving several hundred students.
The walkout was staged to protest a decision not to press charges against a Trump supporter who harassed minority students at the end of the school day on Inauguration Day.
No arrests were made at the peaceful protest, but the students involved will be marked absent from the classes they missed, said Deputy Superintendent of Schools Bill Glass.
Shaun said the underlying reason for the protest is that students don't approve of Donald Trump as president. "They think he should be impeached," he said. As a response to Trump's slogan of "Make America Great Again," Shaun said that students feel that "America is great — with immigrants and minorities in it."
Students could be seen streaming onto the bleachers and the football field, some waving signs and many of them chanting expletive-laced chants about Trump. One student waved a sign saying, "Immigrants Make America Great."
The incident that sparked the walkout was caught on video, posted on Twitter and went viral . The video shows the man, who appears to be drunk, waving a Trump sign and yelling, police said. Some students took exception to the sign, police said. A verbal exchange took place, during which the man yelled, “You’ll be out of the country, you [expletive] illegals.”
Some youths approached and a physical altercation took place, police said. The man declined to press any charges.
After reviewing the video, an officer applied for an arrest warrant for the man but was turned down by the courts. The decision not to press charges upset many students.
Mike Caldwell, father of 16-year-old son DHS sophomore Ryan, said that while he can understand why students are upset, “I think a protest during the school day is short-sighted and unnecessarily disruptive.
“I believe the organizers would have been better served by attending last night's Board of Education meeting and addressing their concerns directly" to Superintendent of Schools Sal Pascarella, he said.
But Gail Hill Williams, Shaun’s mother, had a different viewpoint. She was impressed that the students mobilized in a school environment “because it takes courage," she said.
“I like the fact that they stood up for something. In this day and age, I'm disheartened that they have to go through this. I'm impressed that they learned from history to stand up for what they believe in," Williams said.
In Thursday's walkout, police said about 500 students took part. But Glass said about 300 students walked out — first moving to the area in front of the building.
Shortly thereafter, about half went back to class while the rest assembled near the football field and did a sort of sit-in on the bleachers, Glass said.
"One of the students got on an electronic megaphone and made a statement that Martin Luther King felt that it was appropriate to stage a protest in a professional and organized way," Glass said.
"The student said that he wanted to make sure the students’ message is heard. He then asked the students to return to class," Glass said. A handful of organizers then went with DHS Principal Dan Donovan into the main office while the rest of the students went back to class.
Glass said school officials learned about the protest Wednesday evening through “soft rumors that something may happen, so as a preventative measure, we were in touch with the police department and had additional police presence on campus."
As for the incident that sparked the walkout, Glass said, “It is a police matter, it really is out of our hands right now. The individual who made the remarks Is banned from the campus."