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City students march to district offices, briefly shut down JFX entrance

About 100 students from City College High School marched to school board headquarters on Friday demanding input in the system's budget and school policing. (Joe Burris and Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

Dozens of City College high school students staged a protest Friday that prompted police to briefly shut down the Jones Falls Expressway's North Avenue entrance.

They demanded more input in school system policies and deplored treatment by school police. They said school officers regard students with mistrust and disrespect.

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"Show me what democracy looks like," the students shouted. "This is what democracy looks like."

One adult was arrested at the Interstate 83 ramp, which swelled with motorists while police cruisers tried to redirect traffic. Baltimore police declined to identify the person arrested but said he was charged with failure to obey a police order.

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City College junior Makayla Gilliam-Price, one of the demonstration organizers, said students want input on such matters as the public school district's budget and how school police are trained. She said they also wanted school system CEO Gregory Thornton to make a statement in support of student organizing, so "we will no longer be treated as nuisances."

"We want to re-create [a] student commission, so we can have more students present in the meetings when they're discussing the budget," said Gilliam-Price, 16.

The protest began Friday morning when about three dozen students filed out of City College as the bells sounded for the change of classes. The group assembled outside, then returned inside to beckon more students to join. Moments later, they filed out again, their numbers doubled. The students proceeded to Loch Raven Boulevard, at times walking in the middle of the street as cars slowly followed behind.

Chanting protest slogans, the group then proceeded to the intersection of 33rd and St. Paul streets. With motorists honking horns and police flanked nearby, they formed a square and sat down in the road.

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About 20 minutes later they marched down St. Paul Street, where they were met by police. After a brief discussion between officers and students, the students marched down St. Paul while police blocked crossing streets.

The students marched to school board offices on North Avenue and lay down in the lobby.

Hassan Charles, executive director of the school system's office of engagement, read a statement from Thornton — who was not present — to the protesters, saying the school system supported involvement from students and parents.

"We want to encourage constructive dialogue from all students, parents, faculty and school leadership and are committed to that dialogue," Charles said. He added that school officials would conduct a "citywide listening tour to hear from representative bodies of students across the system."

Students applauded the speech, but Gilliam-Price said the students still planned to request a meeting with the superintendent. The students then filed out of the building and down North Avenue, spreading across lanes while police cars trailed close behind.

The procession then headed up the JFX on a ramp toward a merge lane. After about 10 minutes along the on ramp, students retreated and went back to school system headquarters. About 1:30 p.m., the students ended the demonstration and departed, with many headed back to school.

School officials said students who participated in the demonstration received unexcused absences.

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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