More than 200 West High students marched to the state Capitol Friday, protesting the Salt Lake City Board of Education's decision to eliminate nonacademic clubs.
One of the young protesters was critically injured when she fell off the hood of a car and was run over in front of the Capitol about 10:15 a.m.At East High School, 600 students walked out of school, forcing police to temporarily close 1300 East. Nine police officers were at the school and students were reportedly fighting with security guards.
Students were quiet at Highland High School.
Near the Capitol, witnesses said the 14-year-old victim and a number of other teens had jumped on top of the car as it was moving eastbound on 300 North. The girl was pinned beneath the rear wheels until about a half dozen teens lifted the vehicle off her.
"I looked down at her and asked her if she was OK but she was totally out," said Forest Ringwood, 17. "I put my hand under her neck to brace it and I pulled her out."
Salt Lake police Lt. Mark Zelig said emergency vehicles had trouble reaching the girl because of the large crowd in the road. The accident is under investigation, but driver negligence is not suspected, Zelig said.
While many of the marchers gathered around the victim, others continued to the Capitol. Joshua McKee, 14, said he couldn't understand how they could continue the protest. "No club is worth somebody getting hit by a car," he said.
Daniel Lay, 16, said the marchers were trying to get a message across to the Salt Lake School Board, "but I think it's gotten out of hand."
West principal LaMar Sorensen said he had asked the students not to walk out. "They're demonstrating for a belief that they have. They have a right to do that," Sorensen said.
Capitol security guards lined the front doors, blocking students from entering the building. Lawmakers who had left the floor of the state House to observe the protest were asked to return to the floor as the Legislature wraps up its final days of business.Rep. Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan, waded into the crowd to talk to the students. "I encourage you to use the political process. Talk to your school. Talk to your representatives," he said.
Students shouted him down. West student Chaitan Sinha yelled, "We have. But they didn't listen to us."
East High student Kelli Peterson told the students it is wrong that legislators are "deciding our morals for us."
She reiterated a warning she made a few weeks ago: "We will all be 18 soon and we'll be voting. Remember that."
Peterson is founder of the Gay-Straight Alliance at East High School. The club's controversy started last winter when Peterson and a handful of other students petitioned the East High administration to form the group.
Shortly before noon students marched to the school administration offices to meet with school board president Mary Jo Rasmussen.
At East, principal R. Kay Peterson came out of the school at 10:30 a.m. addressing students through a bullhorn. He urged them to return to class, which they did about 10:50 a.m.
"I want you to know that I agree with your cause. We are going to do everything we can to protect the clubs. I understand your walkout. It's had its effect."
Peterson told the students that Salt Lake City School District Superintendent Darlene Robles, who is out of town, will meet with students on Tuesday. He also gave them an opportunity to talk to the school board, which voted 4-3 Tuesday to eliminate the clubs in the wake of the controvery generated over the gay-straight alliance.
Not all of the students appeared to be in support with the groups gathering outside East High School, some jeering the protesters, who included students and nonstudents.
Last week, a group of East High students petitioned the principal to form an Anti Homosexual League, a counterweight to the gay and lesbian organization. A group of West High students has proposed a similar organization.
Rasmussen had predicted the ban would "throw the high school into chaos" and that the backlash would be "unbelievable."
Kit Mathie, a sophomore at East School, said demonstrators wanted the school board to know they were serious.
"We don't know the consequences yet, but we're willing to pay the consequences, whatever they are. If they don't listen to us today, we'll do it again and again and again."
As the students marched to the Capitol, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was inside addressing state legislators. Hatch said he believes the U.S. Supreme Court would allow Utah school districts to ban gay and lesbian clubs as long as the districts banned purely heterosexual clubs as well.
Hatch said he believes the high court has ruled several times on the difference between the rights of minors and students and rights of adults. School districts don't need a warrant to search a student's possessions, can require athletes to take drug tests, can censor a school newspaper and can prohibit vulgar and sexually explicit speech by students, said Hatch.
That "clearly" tells him that the high court recognizes a difference between student and adult rights, especially in relation school activities.
"Personally, I believe school districts can prohibit gay and lesbian clubs and not prohibit all clubs," the senator said. And he doesn't believe they should ban all clubs.Comment on this story
He added that he sponsored the hate crimes bill and specifically wanted to keep track of hate crimes against homosexuals. No one should be abused because of their sexual preference, he said. "I decry it, but I also believe we don't need to accept alternative lifestyles and school districts don't need to accept gay and lesbian student clubs," said Hatch.
Deseret News staff writers Lucinda Dillon, Joe Costanzo, Zack Van Eyck, Marianne Funk, Alan Edwards, Amy Donaldson, Jerry Spangler, Bob Bernick Jr. and Lisa Riley Roche contributed to this report.