A view of San Francisco Unified School District's Mission High School from Dolores Park. (Photo/Flickr-Don Barrett CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
A view of San Francisco Unified School District's Mission High School from Dolores Park. (Photo/Flickr-Don Barrett CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pro-Palestinian group calls for school walkouts in S.F. and beyond on Wednesday

The Arab Resource and Organizing Center, a San Francisco-based activist group known for its strident criticism of Israel, has called for students in the Bay Area and across the country to stage a walkout on Wednesday morning.

The “Student Walkout for Gaza” is part of what AROC is calling a “National Day of Action.” According to an Instagram post publicizing the event, AROC wants high school students to walk out “to stop the genocide in Gaza and demand that local leaders protect Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and all students against racist attacks.”

The planned walkout has raised concerns among Bay Area Jews who fear the event will make Jewish and pro-Israel students feel isolated and vulnerable. AROC, which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, “holds the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence we’ve witnessed across historic Palestine,” according to its website.

This renewed activism follows the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and hostage-taking in Israel and Israel’s subsequent bombing campaign in Gaza and declaration of war.

In San Francisco, more than 70 parents of public school students signed onto an open letter voicing concern about the walkout to SFUSD Superintendent Matt Wayne.

“Jewish families, who have spent the last 10 days mourning the brutal murders and kidnappings that Hamas inflicted against Jews in Israel, need your leadership and support to ensure our students are and feel safe, secure and respected at school,” the letter states.

Amanda Kahn Fried, a former SFUSD parent who is considering sending another child to the district soon, was one of the signers. She said the call for a walkout had been circulating on social media before parents learned of it.

“Walkouts like this disrupt any opportunity for adults to help students navigate this,” she said.

Fried said that while she understood teenagers feel deeply about political causes, she is concerned about how the adults will moderate what could be a potentially traumatizing situation in school for students with relatives in Israel, as well as in Gaza.

“They’re sitting in the same class,” she said. “And these are issues adults haven’t been able to solve.”

A petition has also begun circulating, created by the nonprofit Russian-speaking Jewish Community of SF Bay Area, that uses the same language as the letter to Wayne.

“We’re very concerned,” said Tye Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area, who said he has been in touch with the San Francisco school district.

J. reached out to the San Francisco, Oakland and Fresno school districts, as well as the San Mateo County Office of Education. San Mateo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

SFUSD on Tuesday afternoon shared with J. a letter that was emailed to families, signed by Wayne, addressing the walkout.

“I want to recognize the fear and concern students and their families feel at this moment. There have been acts of antisemitism in our community in recent days. Islamophobia is on the rise. At SFUSD, we take a strong stance against any type of hate, prejudice, or bias,” he wrote, adding that the walkout is not a SFUSD-sponsored activity.  

“Guidance has been issued to site leaders to address safety concerns and reiterate educational focus during the school day,” he said. 

John Sasaki, Oakland school district spokesperson, said the school was aware of a “planned protest” but didn’t expect it to be a “major movement.”

“The District respects and supports our students’ right to lift up their voices on the important issues of our time, including the situation in Gaza,” he said, adding that they are encouraged to protest outside of school hours. “Anyone who leaves school will be counted as absent,” he said.

Fresno Unified School District spokesperson A.J. Kato said the district isn’t aware of any plans for a student walkout. “Fresno Unified supports the right to protest peacefully, but has strong concerns for student safety, once they leave campus,” she said.

Gregory said he is concerned that school faculty might participate in the walkout, which could make Jewish and Israeli students feel unsafe. He also isn’t confident that teachers in the classroom are prepared to respond should students ask them about what’s happening.

“How many of them are prepared, have the core competencies, to do that?” he said.

AROC is publicizing the walkout and has created a walkout “toolkit” with a sample walkout plan and tips for talking to the media, including wording that students can use. That includes telling reporters: “Teachers have a responsibility to teach about the occupation and root causes of the current war on Gaza.”

Besides having co-organized recent protests against Israel, AROC is known in the Bay Area for its staunch support of an ethnic studies curriculum that drew ire of Jewish institutions

AROC was also the group behind the “Block the Boat” campaign. In 2021, a container ship owned by the Haifa-based Zim Integrated Shipping Services, docked in Oakland but turned back out to sea later in the day after workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 declined to cross the line of protesters to unload the ship’s cargo. Such “Block the Boat” actions have been going on for years in Oakland.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.