The newly minted protestors at Dwyer Middle School hit the big time Thursday with a visit from famous LA activist lawyer Gloria Allred as they rallied against the planned installation of solar panels on their graduation grounds.
What three weeks ago was an email chain among parent and student organizers officially entered the realm of media circus with five television stations covering an afternoon demonstration by nearly 250 students at a park near the school.
The students and parents are upset with the Huntington Beach City School District board for approving the installation of the panels in front of the 90-year-old school.
They say the panels being put in by Chevron Energy Solutions will cut into physical education programs and interfere with traditional eighth grade graduation ceremonies.
The camera-friendly Allred, who begins her own TV show later this year, offered her full-throated support of the student grievances and the lessons they are learning.
“In this country,” she said following the formal program, “we have no freedoms unless we can exercise our right to free speech. It’s not just a right. I think it’s a duty.”
The protest was originally planned as a day and night event on the grass in front of the school. But organizers learned last week they’d need a permit and proof of liability insurance.
The revised demonstration started after school let out on Thursday. Also joining in was Mayor Joe Carchio.
“Obviously, they’ve (school board) made their decision,” Carchio said. “I’m kind of disappointed. I thought they might have brought parents in first” and discussed where the carport-style panels will be located. “I guess they didn’t think that way.”
District officials have blamed a communications mix-up for the failure to notify parents in advance where the panels would be and now it would be too expensive to pick a different location.
Superintendent Kathy Kessler was at the school when classes ended for the day, but didn’t go to the park to watch the demonstration.
She said “the police department had asked me, ‘do you want them to be here (on school property) or not.’”
Based on the liability issues, she said, the answer was “no.”
Allred and the police talked and “they made a good decision not to put anybody in cofrontations.”
Answering questions after an address to students in the park, Allred said she wasn’t planning to file any lawsuits.
“I’m here solely for this protest and to support these students’ right to free speech.”
Using a bullhorn to be heard, Allred urged the students to “run for public office (when they’re grown), get elected and then you’ll be able to make decisions.”
Students and parents said they plan to continue working to get the school board and Chevron to change the location of the solar panels.
“This isn’t the end,” said eighth grader Caroline Wiederkeher, whose mother Annelle also is one of the organizing parents. “We’ll keep doing whatever we can to get them moved.”
Others said organizers may try to arrange a meeting with school district officials and Chevron.