Pro-Palestinian protests reach some high schools amid widespread college demonstrations

By Cybele Mayes-Osterman ,  Kayla Jimenez   USA TODAY

As protests against the war in Gaza roil college campuses across the country, some high school students are launching their own pro-Palestinian protests.

On Monday afternoon, about 100 high school students in Austin, Texas, walked out of their classes in protest.

“I’m protesting against a government that is actively hurting people just because of where they were born and what language they speak,” Pia Ibsen, a senior at McCallum High School in Austin, told USA TODAY. Ibsen helped organize a walkout and left class for about an hour and a half.

Local media reports have tracked high school students in Seattle who filled out excused-absence forms ahead of a walkout last week, and Chicago students at a college preparatory school planned a sit-in Wednesday.

The student walkouts and marches at high schools look different from the student encampments and occupations at college campuses. But they’re also prompting backlash from school administrators and community members who want them shut down – some even before they begin.

New Jersey high school students canceled a pro-Palestinian walkout scheduled for last Thursday after two county commissioners wrote a letter demanding that the school district’s superintendent cancel the event to protect Jewish students, reported the Cherry Hill Courier-Post, part of the USA TODAY Network.

“The student walkout is an intentional effort to create a hostile and isolating environment for Jewish students, the majority of whom support Israel as an integral part of their identity,” wrote Camden County Commissioners Jeffrey Nash and Melinda Kane in a letter to Eastern Camden County Regional School District Superintendent Robert Cloutier.

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Student protests have erupted at college campuses across the U.S. in support of Palestinians after Israel launched its siege of the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack. About 1,200 people in southern Israel were killed and more than 200 taken hostage in that attack. The Israeli military response has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to Gaza health ministry figures, and obliterated much of the enclave’s infrastructure.

The humanitarian crisis has fueled outrage on some U.S. campuses and spurred demands for an end to investment in Israeli companies and amnesty for student protesters.

Critics said the protests fed into antisemitism on campuses and created a dangerous atmosphere for Jewish students. Some Jewish students and faculty reported that they had been targeted with harassment and threats of violence.

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