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Sylmar students stage walk-out in solidarity; principal says the brawl wasn’t race related

Mike Szymanski | May 12, 2016

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thursday's walk-out

Sylmar students participate in a two-hour walkout Thursday. From Instagram “SylmarClass2016”

Although the brawl that took place on the Sylmar High School campus Monday is garnering national attention, it’s for the wrong reasons.

“It was not race related, it was not about bullying,” said principal James Lee, who came to the school four years ago.

Lee allowed students to take over the stage on Wednesday night at a school meeting which was also attended by Danny Trejo, an actor who has roots in Sylmar. The meeting was also attended by LA Unified police chief Steve Zipperman and Superintendent Michelle King.

Despite the much-publicized rant by the actor, the inciting incident for the lunchtime brawl involving about 40 students on Monday had little to do with race and was more about the athletes, according to Lee. It stemmed from a personal dispute that happened after the prom held last weekend.

Lee on Thursday allowed the students to walk out of their classrooms in a two-hour demonstration of solidarity. He said there will continue to be discussions, talks, forums and counselors available as the school year heads to an end on June 13. Until the end of the year, after-school activities except ongoing sports competitions have been canceled.

Many of the students posted pictures on Instagram with #SymlarUnited and #SHS Unity with smiles and laughter and clips of them shouting, “Sylmar United, will never be divided.”

King issued another statement Thursday after the meeting with students, saying, “We appreciate the show of unity by students of Sylmar High School and the Sylmar Leadership Academy and their enthusiasm in expressing support for their schools.”


Principal James Lee in the office of Sylmar High.

She added, “However, this should not overshadow the importance of instruction and student learning, and the district does not approve of activities that take students out of the classroom. Safety remains the district’s top priority, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

It was unclear how many of the school’s students didn’t show up this week because of Monday’s incident. Of the school’s 2,300 students, about 2,150 are Latino, 72 are African-American, 44 are white and 30 Asian.

Some of the instigators of the brawl were from outside the school community. They weren’t street gangs in their formal definition, according to the principal, but the groups could cause trouble as they did with his students.

Los Angeles and school police are investigating and charges could yet be filed. Disciplinary action including suspensions have already been taken with some of the students involved.

What got lost in the shuffle of the news of the week is that Sylmar became an affiliated charter school on Tuesday, and as of July 1, the school will be called Sylmar Charter High School. The principal is already looking at bids to change the sign in front of the school.

“I think it will bring a whole new attitude to the school to have that on the sign,” said Lee, who sat at Tuesday’s school board meeting for five hours until the school board voted to approve the charter. It was a four-year, hard-fought process to become an affiliated charter school, which means it still has ties to the district, but Lee was relieved Tuesday evening. Right now, however, he has other issues to handle.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there, and I’m telling the students that if they talk to the media, at least tell the truth,” Lee said. “There were no injuries, it was not a racial incident, and we’re trying to calm everything down.”

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