About 150 Cabrillo High School students walked out of class Monday morning and staged a peaceful protest in front of the Vandenberg Village campus in support of Principal Jeff Wagonseller, who was placed on administrative leave less than two weeks ago.
The students gathered in front of the school for about 20 minutes as several Cabrillo High and Lompoc Unified School District administrators and teachers looked on. Some held signs, many signed a petition that was passed around, and there were a couple of brief group chants of “Wagonseller” and “We Want Wagonseller.”
“We just all wanted to show Mr. Wagonseller our love and support for him,” said Erin Jenkins, a senior who helped organize the protest. “Even if he’s not here, we’d still run as a great school, but we just wanted to show that we love and support him and want him back.”
LUSD officials still have not revealed exactly why Wagonseller was placed on leave. The staff at the school was reportedly notified of Wagonseller's removal during a meeting on the morning of Sept. 14. Sue Pettis, who had been an assistant principal, took over as acting principal at that time.
John Karbula, an assistant superintendent with LUSD, was at Monday’s student protest. He declined to comment on Wagonseller’s status, but he offered kudos to the students for standing up for their beliefs.
“Students have a protected First Amendment right to free speech and we respect that,” Karbula said. “Actually, I’d love to compliment the students today. They did a great job. They have something that they believed they needed to show some solidarity for and they came out and did a respectful job of doing that and then they went back to class. So I think all is well.”
News of the protest was spread over the weekend on social media. Sophomore Douglas Priester said he found out about it on Facebook, while some of his friends said they learned of it from Snapchat or from talking with other classmates. While many said they wanted to show support for Wagonseller, some also acknowledged, perhaps jokingly, that it was a productive way to miss some of their second period classes.
Preister said he felt compelled to take part.
“Mr. Wagonseller has always been there for me,” he said.
While the students did end up missing a chunk of their second period classes, Karbula said he felt the protest was a learning experience in its own way.
“We aren’t gonna encourage kids to miss class because that’s the reason they’re here, but every life opportunity and all the different things that happen in life, we try to say all of those are learning experiences,” he said. “I hope what the students do hear from us is that we respect their First Amendment rights and we aren’t gonna violate the U.S. Constitution.”
Wagonseller had been principal at Cabrillo High since the start of the 2014-15 school year. He worked in other administrative positions at the school for five years before that, and also served as principal at Lompoc Valley Middle School. He has 18 years of experience in school administration, according to his biography on the Cabrillo High School website.
Prior to arriving in Lompoc, Wagonseller was a coach and educator at a high school in Nevada. He reportedly resigned from that position in 2000 amid allegations of sexual misconduct with a former student. No charges were filed from that incident, but he was named in a civil suit.
Karbula declined to offer any kind of timetable regarding when a decision might be made on Wagonseller’s status.
Jenkins, the Cabrillo High senior, indicated that some of Wagonseller’s supporters might show up at Tuesday evening’s meeting of the LUSD board of education to voice their concerns. That meeting is slated to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Education Center Board Room, 1301 North A St.
Regarding Monday morning’s rally, Jenkins said she believed it was definitely worthwhile.
“I feel like we made a statement saying that we want him back, but … I don’t know if it will affect the decision on whether he will come back or not,” she said. “But we just wanted to show that we love Mr. Wagonseller and we are on his side and we support him.”