Several hundred young people gathered at the State Capitol on Thursday, to protest the presence of military recruiters in schools and the spending of tax dollars on the military instead of in schools.

Organized by Youth Against War and Racism, the group of about 200 to 300 included some who had walked out of area high schools at 11 a.m. in protest. After the gathering at the Capitol, the students held a peaceful march through downtown to Harriet Island.

"The Republican National Convention is going on and I don't agree with a lot of their stances on the war," said 17-year-old Katharine Anderson, who walked out of school at the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

She was at the protest with Caleb McMahon, who said that he walked out of school to protest "purely on an idealist level," to show that students and young people who can't vote yet still have strong political opinions forming. "It's not like people suddenly appear once they turn 18," he said.

Organizers were careful to encourage students to keep things peaceful during the march, while criticizing a phone message sent to some parents of students in the St. Paul district that discouraged students from skipping class. The message said that students have a right to free expression, but leaving school without permission could result in disciplinary action.

The Minneapolis School District sent a notice to families earlier this week, after staff at South High School found flyers advertising the school walk-out. The note said that students' absence would be counted as unexcused, meaning that they can't make up the classwork. Parents could have provided notes excusing students for "family activity."

In the note the district also said that it is "proud of students who use nonviolent protest as a means of political expression," and that it's "important for students to make their voices heard," but it wishes it would take place outside of school hours.

The Youth Against War and Racism group has organized other protests, and organized efforts to place restrictions on military recruiters in St. Paul and Minneapolis schools.

Brittney McCoy, 15, walked out of St. Paul's Highland Park Senior High, saying that witnessing a controversial election up close was a "once in a lifetime experience."

She said her parents didn't know she was planning on leaving school, but she didn't encounter any resistance from school staff on her way out the door.

"My parents are huge Barack Obama supporters, and I tend to agree with them, so we came to check it out, and see what the atmosphere was like."

Emily Johns • 651-298-1541