SIOUX CITY | Tania Espinoza, a 2010 graduate of West High School, said she didn’t follow national politics until she heard GOP hopeful Donald Trump talk about women and Latinos.
The 24-year-old was among about 650 people who silently protested Tuesday outside West High, where Trump held a campaign rally, on the basis that Trump has made hostile statements about immigrants.
“It’s very unnecessary and caught the attention of many people,” Espinoza said of Trump’s comments.
The crowd, which consisted mostly of former and current students, held signs facing traffic on West 19th Street, where passers-by honked horns in support while other drivers had a less sympathetic response. At least one yelled, "Get a green card."
At West High, Latinos make up about 29 percent of the school’s diverse population. On Tuesday, students said they protested Trump because his campaign speeches reflect anti-immigrant views.
On Monday, students asked schools Superintendent Paul Gausman to cancel the event, saying some of their peers had been harassed or bullied since Trump’s stop was announced. Gausman said hosting political rallies is permitted under the district’s facility use policy.
Armando Perez, 16, a West High junior, said news of Trump’s rally changed the school's environment -- for the worse.
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“I don’t welcome Donald Trump in my school,” he said. “I’m against what he’s saying to everybody.”
Perez added that students’ political differences became more apparent, which caused harassing and bullying incidents.
“They’ve been saying like Mexicans just want their green cards. They’ve been chanting 'Donald Trump' behind us,” Perez said. “Last week, it wasn’t like this. West High was really united.”
Opponents had cited the school's anti-bullying policy as a reason to block Trump's visit.
Ismael Valadez, a member of DREAM Iowa who attended Tuesday’s protest, said the organization, which advocates legislative rights for undocumented immigrants, said the Trump event violated school policy.
“We are just here to show the community this type of event should not be allowed in a school property,” he said. “It can cause a lot of bullying between the students.”
West High was the location for some scenes in the award-winning documentary “Bully.” The Sioux City school district is viewed as a national leader in anti-bullying policies.
Sioux City school board member Perla Alarcon-Flory, who attended the protest, said the event was an opportunity for the district’s students to learn about their constitutional rights.
“I believe in the right of freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly,” Alarcon-Flory said before the protesters walked to West High. “I am grateful they are defending their position.”