Eli Yurman turned 18 after the 2016 presidential election.
Like many of his State College Area High School classmates, he didn’t have the opportunity in November to vote.
Holding an Inauguration Day rally to promote peace and love was one way he said he could help his peers voice their opinions regarding the election.
But students who skipped class for the demonstration risked detention.
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“Part of civil disobedience is understanding there are repercussions and being OK with that,” Yurman said. “I think that for kids who aren’t able to voice their opinion through the voting process, this is the only way to get their voices heard.”
The original idea to hold an Inauguration Day rally came from Eli Yurman’s sister, Auden Yurman, a freshman at State High.
“She came up to me a week ago, said she was really passionate about this, and asked if I wanted to support her,” Eli Yurman said.
The rally attracted a group of students Friday morning — some with signs — who gathered outside of the North Building next to the flagpole.
“I think it’s really important to emphasize that we’re not protesting the election, we’re not protesting the inauguration, and we’re not protesting the new administration,” Yurman said. “Our message is pro-peace, pro-love, and we want to promote it in a sense of togetherness.”
But participation could come at a price for some students.
Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said teachers were on hand during the Friday morning walkout to identify students who violated school policy by skipping class.
District administrators said they had to compromise with students in a way that allowed them to celebrate their rights, while still having a structured school day.
“So that interaction of understanding both from Eli, the student leader, and Mr. (Curtis) Johnson, our principal, happened, and we’re going to support what rights students have with this protest, but we’re also going to support our expectations for a valuable day of learning with our teachers and students and use of our curriculum,” O’Donnell said.
Students and parents were notified prior to the rally regarding school policy, and O’Donnell said he consulted with district solicitor Scott Etter on legal matters.
Superintendent Bob O’Donnell explains potential disciplinary action:
“If students skip class, then our normal rules are in place. ... Most students have a chance to participate in this since it falls during lunch. … A student who has lunch — if they go outside to play Hacky Sack, we allow that every day. So right in the courtyard where this (occurred), we have students out there every day. For a student who steps outside during lunch, there are no consequences because those kids are acting within our expectations. For students who miss class to participate, that will result in a detention. That’s our regular rule. We expect students to stay in class.”