An estimated 100 to 200 students staged a walkout Tuesday in what appeared to be a spontaneous show of dissent on the part of some to protest the recent firing of a junior varsity football and basketball coach.
The protest began after “nutrition” (snack time) at about 10 a.m. and lasted till school ended around 3 p.m., according to an ERHS staff member and a student on the football team, both of whom spoke to Patch on condition of anonymity.
Patch repeatedly called Eagle Rock High on Tuesday and was told that Principal Salvador Velasco was either “in and out” of his office or locked in meetings, including one with school teachers from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Many students evidently left classrooms after receiving a text message that exhorted them to protest the firing in February of Steven Jovanelly, an ERHS alumnus who coached the school’s football and basketball teams and was also a substitute teacher in multiple disciplines, including English, math and social science.
“It was like a million ‘forwards,’” said the ERHS staff member, referring to the text message, which prompted the protesting students to join the mass protest. For some, it was an occasion to skip classes, the staff member emphasized.
The students initially gathered in the school’s quad, “didn’t move for a while, and then walked around in the football field, shouting ‘Free Jovanelly,’” the staffer said.
“At one point, there was some vandalism—a kid threw a rock that broke a window,” the staff member said. A custodian got knocked down and was injured when the protesting students marched toward one of the school’s gates in an apparent move to leave campus.
“If kids in a mob are intent on heading toward a gate, then it is District procedure to open the gate,” the staff member said, explaining how the custodian was evidently pushed in the melee. To the best of the staff member’s knowledge, none of the students left campus, however.
Shortly after the custodian got injured, Principal Velasco was heard urging students over the school’s public address system to return to their classrooms, the staff member said, adding that “some people from the District in ties were watching [the walkout] as well.”
As the protesters wandered around school yelling, they urged others to join them in pressing Principal Velasco to “bring Jovanelly back,” according to the member of the school football team who spoke to Patch.
Neither the staffer nor the student who spoke to Patch could remember the exact contents of the text message that sparked the walkout.
But the gist of the message, said the staffer, went something like this: “Some injustices have been done to Coach Jovanelly—let’s say to the administration that we care about the coach.”
According to a text message forwarded to Patch by an ERHS alumnus late Tuesday, plans are underway for another student-led walkout on Wednesday.
“Okay people we got the word out about the walk out that just happened,” the message began. “They know we all want STEVEN JOVANELLY back. They are scared. They are calling homes to tell are [sic] parents and make them tell us not to do that. Walk-out with us again tomorrow! Tell every person you know that goes to EAGLE.ROCK.HIGHSCHOOL. To walk out to support STEVEN JOVANELLY!”
The text message concluded with the following reference to the fired coach: “There is one thing that he taught us and it was if one fails we all fail. So come out and support! FWD.FWD.FWD”
Stay tuned for updates related to the ERHS walkout as well as regarding the larger issue surrounding it.