Many parents and students were disgusted by the school's attempt to push an extreme view on the students.
Hundreds of high school students staged a walkout to protest an anti-abortion assembly held at Archbishop Riordan High School. The students walked out as an anti-abortion speaker made his presentation at the catholic school where it welcomed girl students for the very time. School teachers patrolled the doors as Megan Almon, who works with the Life Training Institute, started her speech. Life Training Institute is opposed to abortion and aims to teach people to “persuasively defend their views in the marketplace of ideas.” The Training Institute often sends speakers to Catholic and Christian schools, reported San Francisco Chronicle. Within a few minutes into the presentation, Almon had compared the number of abortions to deaths in the holocaust.
The students walked out of the presentation as a sign of protest. They exited the theater and walked into the gym as school rules don’t allow them to leave campus. Of the 800 students in the theater, only a few dozens remained for the entirety of the presentation. The move was controversial among students as this was the school's first year as a co-ed institution. Riordan was until last year an all-boys school. The students were angered by the move to invite Megan Almon to give a speech at the school. “It’s just so frustrating,” said Claire Ibalio, who had transferred to the school from an all-girls school last year. “It’s been so hard to go from an environment of female empowerment to someone telling me what I can and can’t do with my body.”
The incident comes at a time when conservative states are trying to pass anti-abortion laws. Texas recently passed a law that enables vigilantes to sue anyone helping a person get an abortion. The Supreme court refused to block the law, allowing the law to stand. The Catholic school's invited Almon as the San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s is personally pushing for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Catholic, to drop her support of abortion rights. Cordileone launched a $50,000 digital ad asking viewers to pray and fast as a sign of support, calling the effort the 'Rose and Rosary for Nancy Campaign.' Cordileone oversees the diocese’s Catholic schools, including Riordan.
Most students got up and walked out the moment Almon compared abortions to the holocaust, which was within a few minutes into her presentation. Almon propped up common anti-abortion talking points including considering embryos as people and referring to abortions as infanticide. Parents got an email alerting them of Almon's visit and a many were disappointed with the school as they felt she represented an extreme view on the matter. One parent described Almon's views as “horrible and frankly harmful.” Another parent, Judy Walgren, said, "For me, it was poor pedagogy, and it was poor decision making.”
The school administration defended itself claiming that the speaker was part of its Catholic education. “The assembly was an opportunity to come together in order to learn more about the dignity of human life. We recognize that members of our school community, whether they are Catholic or not, have different viewpoints on this topic,” said interim president Tim Reardon in a statement. “We appreciate that those with different views shared those respectfully today. We offered an alternative safe venue for students.”
The first year it welcomed female students, @RiordanHS tried to make them sit through an anti-abortion presentation comparing reproductive justice to the Holocaust.— Meghan Joyce Tozer (@EmilyLindin) October 25, 2021
They 👏 walked 👏 out 👏 https://t.co/S7rAfo9iQ1
The original email to the students also seemed to anticipate the backlash against the speaker. “The administration is aware that not all Riordan students are Catholic. We understand that we live in a society in which people have strong, disparate opinions about all the categories ascribed to this theme… Our speaker will be here simply to explain the Catholic position, primarily with regard to abortion," read the email.