HISD is taking the tougher stand they said they would with students who continue to skip class to protest immigration policies, while at the same time encouraging the students to find a more productive way to express themselves.
Just hours after 26 Houston Independent School District students were arrested for walking out of class to protest pending immigration legislation, community leaders urged young people to find better ways to express their feelings.
The walkouts — which also landed 33 Dowling Middle School students and 34 from Madison High School with truancy citations Thursday — need to end, officials said.
"Your message has been heard loud and clear," school board President Diana Davila said. "We know what you're fighting for. We know what you believe in, and we now ask that you do it in a fashion where no one will get hurt, where the district won't have to suspend students."
HISD leaders made good on their promise to step up sanctions for students who protest but also asked students to find less disruptive ways to make their point.
They're encouraging informational meetings and letter-writing campaigns as alternative ways to share concerns about proposed immigration laws that could have far-reaching effects for their families and friends living in the United States.
"Everyone needs to make an effort to encourage our young people to remain in school," Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said.
Though fewer students cut class Thursday, police said they had serious concerns about a group of 100 Madison High students found marching near the 1100 block of South Post Oak in the morning. They were on their way to recruit students from nearby Dowling Middle, police spokesman Capt. Dwayne Ready said.
"They are going from school to school, which is disrupting school activities," Ready said. "We have a safety issue present today that wasn't as present in the last few days."
Saavedra lauded the efforts of students at Lamar High School, where about 500 students gathered around the flagpole before classes began Thursday morning to discuss the legislation.
Children said the peaceful rally was more effective than the walkouts without getting them into trouble.
"Today, instead of walking out of school, we all walked into school united, together — as students, as human beings," said Tina Marie Sanchez, 17, a junior at Lamar High.
Her classmate, Zelene Pineda, 17, said it's important for students to understand the finer points of the debate about the pending bills.
"We had seen the students being portrayed as ignorant and oblivious to the actual causes for the walkouts and the protests," she said.
"Walking out was not right. What we wanted to do was be smart about it."
Students are using Internet bulletins to promote weekly informational sessions around the school's flagpole.
Sharpstown and Reagan high school students have said they're planning peaceful rallies after school today. A group called Young Immigrants for a Better Future is also planning a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. today at 6601 Hillcroft, the offices of CRECEN, an immigrant rights organization.
"We have to do something so Congress can feel the pressure, but we have to do something in an organized manner," said Ivonne Moreira, 21, executive director of the group. "There's ways to do things, not just go crazy."