Nearly 800 Madison East High School students walked out of school Tuesday morning to join a demonstration against Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill at the Capitol.
As teachers beamed and offered thanks, student organizers in the hallways handed out signs identifying each as a "future worker, future voter," proclaiming this was a "Walk out for Walker out," and calling on the Legislature to "kill this bill."
Senior Riley Moore, whose mother is a Madison teacher and father works for UW-Madison, carried a bullhorn and distributed two fliers, one with contact information for Republican legislators who he thought might be on the fence about the bill, the other with information about what to do if confronted by police.
"Last time I checked Madison was the new Cairo," Moore said as he fired up the torrent of students spilling from the sidewalks into the bus lane on East Washington Avenue.
Sophomore Shiloh Forde, whose mother is a bartender and like several hundred other parents granted permission for an excused absence, shared a common sentiment among students.
"I like my teachers and I don't want their rights taken away," Forde said. "And I like protesting."
There was skepticism among some students that others were using the exercise as an excuse to skip class. But it appeared that most students who left made the entire two-mile trek to the Capitol.
Senior Ona Powell said many students who wouldn't normally attend a protest and had no idea on Monday what was happening were inside the Capitol for several hours chanting.
"I talked to people (Monday) who had no idea what was going on and now they're passionate about it," Powell said.
Powell, whose mother is a Madison teacher and father is a professor, coordinated the walkout through Facebook and word-of-mouth at school on Monday. She said she attended a rally at the Capitol on Sunday and was disappointed by the low turnout.
"I felt outraged that unions are being attacked and didn't want my mom hurt by this," Powell said.
Students said teachers appeared torn by their support for what their students were doing, but also awareness that they weren't supposed to encourage student political activity.
Travis Turnquist, a senior who stayed at East on Tuesday because his parents, a credit card agent and construction worker, didn't grant him permission to leave, said the protest was the topic of discussion in every class Monday. Though teachers mostly responded to questions from curious students, some were telling students they wouldn't be marked absent if they left.
John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., said the union hadn't encouraged any specific action by teachers or students, though he called the walkout a "teachable moment."
"What teachers are doing is following their own conscience," Matthews said.
Madison School Board policy states "teachers shall refrain from exploiting the institutional privileges of their professional positions to promote candidates or parties and activities," which includes protests.
Several teachers attended Monday night's School Board meeting asking the board to make a statement opposing Walker's proposal. All seven board members signed a statement at the meeting.
"The rush to push radical changes through the Legislature in a matter of days before anyone has a chance to consider their ramifications in a careful and balanced way shows lack of respect for our employees and the democratic process," the statement said. "We will work to urge the governor to reconsider his position and bring all parties to the table in order to reach a more collaborative solution to our state's financial problems."