Nearly 100 New Haven high school students participated in a school strike and rally on Monday morning in protest of various city and education policies.
Students began arriving at the New Haven Green in small groups at 8 a.m. with protest signs and rainbow flags. Multiple students gave speeches while they waited for the entire group of students to form. Just after 9 a.m., the group marched through city streets, ending with a rally outside City Hall, according to one of the strike’s organizers, Jeremy Cajigas, a senior at High School in the Community and member of the student group Citywide Youth Coalition.
The strike had a list of 14 demands for the city and the New Haven Public Schools that included voting rights for the student representatives on the Board of Education and a more diverse school curriculum.
“[We want the district] to feel how many of us are affected,” said Cowiya Arouna, a senior at Wilbur Cross High School and another organizer through Citywide Youth Coalition. “Most of these students are immigrants and minorities, we don’t want schools that don’t reflect us.”
Arouna said the students had previously planned to do a walk out during school hours, but that school officials told students they would face academic consequences if they chose to do so.
Topics at the rally included concerns for LGBTQ rights under President Donald Trump’s administration, as well as anger toward the incarceration of young people of color. Arouna said many New Haven students have had at least one classmate who has spent time in juvenile or adult prisons.
City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said that Mayor Toni Harp first learned of the rally when its participants arrived at City Hall and that she hopes the rally “helps increase overall awareness of and participation in the public education process among students and their families.”
Included in the students’ list of demands was a plea for charges to be dropped against Aymir Holland, a 17-year-old facing up to 61 years in prison for allegedly assaulting a Yale professor in November 2015.
Students from Metropolitan Business Academy, New Haven Academy, Wilbur Cross High School and High School in the Community participated in the strike. Citywide Youth Coalition had different ambassadors who organized students at their respective schools, Arouna said.
Denali Hawley, a freshman at High School in the Community, said she participated in the strike because she wants to see more equality in NHPS. And Mary Gilbert, a junior at Wilbur Cross, said she attended the protest to use her “political voice” as a student.
Representatives from the local organizations Black Lives Matter New Haven and Showing Up for Racial Justice also attended the event as marshals.
Prior to Monday’s strike, the administration at High School in the Community released a statement that said students who attended the event would be subject to “disciplinary action” including suspension. Cajigas said after the strike that he and other students received one-day suspensions.
HSC Facilitator Matt Brown did not comment on the suspensions, but said the school provides many outlets and programs for students to pursue social justice interests. The school takes its responsibility to keep students safe seriously, he said, and does not support students skipping school.
The New Haven Green was built in 1638.