SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO ( — Angry San Clemente High School students and parents met Wednesday to protest what they called the sudden and questionable firing of the school’s principal.

The protesters said Michael Halt, a retired and highly decorated former Marine colonel and USC graduate, in less than two years made measurable changes to SCHS.

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Halt was recently told he wasn’t being invited back for a third year. Parents were also upset that Halt was removed from the campus and told he wasn’t finishing out the school year. The district said it could not legally say why.

“More than anything, Mike Halt was liked by students, parents and staff,” said one parent.

The group set up a Facebook page called “I Like Mike Halt.” It has 943 likes.

KCAL9’s Stacey Butler attended the meeting held at the Capistrano Unified School District Education Center.

It’s a story that is Only On 9.

Many wore “I Like Mike” buttons. And at times the students got heated.

A parent holds an "I Like Mike" button in support of a San Clemente High School principal that students said was fired without cause. (credit: CBS)

A parent holds an “I Like Mike” button in support of a San Clemente High School principal that students said was fired without cause. (credit: CBS)

“I don’t know how you can look at me with straight faces and not even react when there is so much emotion in this room,” said student Alex Zwiski, fighting back tears. “You have robbed me and many others of the symbolic gesture of shaking that man’s hand at our graduation ceremony.”

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Parents and students packed the school board meeting, and 25 of them spoke on Halt’s behalf. Some basically begged, Butler reported.

“We not only want the return of our principal,” said student Rick Meyer, “but we want the return of our friend and our mentor and our role model.”

Said one parent, “He is a true American hero. And how he has been treated is despicable.”

Forbidden from holding protest signs indoors, many stood at the windows holding placards of support.

David Codero, a spokesman for the district, would only say that a new principal is starting in July.

He would also not say why Halt was terminated weeks shy of graduation.

“Unfortunately,” said Codero, “the background of the situation is not known. It is entirely a personnel matter.”

Students Butler spoke to said the termination was strictly political and not a personnel matter at all.

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Halt could not be reached for comment.