Friday, November 09, 2007

Perilous Times/Can It Happen Here?

A recent anti-war protest at Morton West H.S. in Berwyn (a school I taught at for two years) has met with severe repercussions including suspensions and expulsions. I am pasting a report of the incident I found on-line beneath my words here. (A follow-up report appears in today's Tribune)

Ask yourself if you think the students' civil liberties were violated, and more locally, how you feel about the punishment. Here are some other questions I've been asking myself: What would happen at New Trier if a similar protest were held? To what extent is the war being discussed and debated here, and is this level of discussion and debate sufficient?

According to this morning's New Trier News, only six of some 1000 graduates from the NT class of 2007 joined the military after high school. At Morton the numbers are much greater. Some of the students I taught felt college was well beyond their means financially and many told me they felt they were "not college material" since no one in their family had ever gone to college. To what extent does social class determine not only who joins the military but also who discusses the war?


Now the article:

Morton West High School Expulsion
Over 30 anti-war protesters at Morton West High School in Berwyn face expulsion for a demonstration at the school on Thursday.
Scores of Students Face Expulsion Due to Sit-in Berwyn, IL

November 06, 2007

Over 70 students participated in a sit-in against the Iraq War on All Saint's Day, Thursday, November 1st. It began third hour when dozens of students gathered quietly in the lunchroom at Morton West High School and refused to leave. The administrators and police became involved immediately and locked down the school for a half hour after class ended. Students report that they were promised that there would be no charges besides cutting classes if they took their protest outside so as not to disturb the school day. The students complied, and were led to a corner outside the cafeteria where they sang songs and held signs while classes resumed.

Despite a police line set up between the protestors and the student body, many other students joined the demonstration. Organizers say they chose November first because it is the Christian holy day called the feast of All Saints and a national day of peace. They wrote a letter and delivered it to Superintendent, Dr. Ben Nowakowski who was present at the time, stating the reason for their protest.

Deans, counselors and even the Superintendent tried to change the minds of a few, mainly those students with higher GPA scores to abandon the protest. The school called the homes of many of the protestors. Those whose parents arrived before the end of school and took their students home, or left before the protest ended at the final bell, received 3-5 days suspension. All others, an estimated 37 received 10 days suspension and expulsion papers. Parents report that Nowakowski stated those who are seventeen will also face police charges.

Parents who are frantically trying to spare their child's expulsion flooded the school yesterday to file appeals on the matter. So far, Superintendent Nowakowski has held firm on the punishments. They are expected to find out the results of the appeals on Tuesday. Parents and students report and the school's videotape shown to some of the parents confirms that the students were non-violent in their action.

The protest came on the heels of a recent incident on October 15th, when a student reported hearing that another student had a gun on campus. The story of the eyewitness was deemed unreliable and the school was not locked down. Later that week (October 19), the Berwyn police, acting on a tip arrested one of the youths originally questioned for gun possession and he allegedly confessed to carrying an unloaded semi-automatic handgun that day. All these issues, plus the expected announcement of whether uniforms will be established in the school should make the next Board of Education meeting on Wednesday at 7:00pm at the Morton East campus very well-attended.

Click HERE for the Superintendent's statement on the matter.

4 comments:

Bolos said...

Here's a quote from their Superintendent:
"We appropriately balanced the free speech rights of the students who sought to protest with the rights of the other Morton West students to learn."

Apart from the freedom of speech issues, it's important to note that the students with higher GPAs or who were athletes faced LESSER punishment than the other participants.

Finally, please note this quote from the Morton School District's website: "School District 201 routinely allows United States Military, Colleges and Universities to have directory information (such as name and address) for students who are currently attending. "

Elizabeth L said...

"...note that the students with higher GPAs or who were athletes faced LESSER punishment than the other participants."

This part struck me the most because it demonstrated how the kids on the top were justified and given less punishment than those on the bottom. This is completely unfair and unjust: all the students took part and did the same exact actions therefore should all receive the same punishment. The other thing I find to be disgusting is the High School is sending the report to universities, why would this matter, wouldnt universities want students that are outspoken and confident about there beliefs? Or would they not accept them because it might lead to something like Kent State incident...but then again I think this is another connection because it is all about how the school handles the issues that come up. Kent State could have been prevented and controlled better than it was; however, because of the authorities misdoings students were killed and injured.
BUt isnt this the same thing, without actually killing and hurting someone you are putting a bad name on the students that were simply following the First Amendment.

Sara D said...

I agree with Elizabeth. I think it is really interesting how the school gave a less strict punishment to those students who had higher GPA's or were star athletes. It is ocmpletely unjust. I already think that the school should let the students protest. During the video it said that it was a peaceful protest, I understand that this could have possibly still been a distraction, but it still demonstrated their rights to free speech.
This makes me wonder how things would be handeled here at school. We have never really had protests, at least that I know of. I just wonder how our administration would have handled it. Would they have given favorable punishments as well?

Sara D said...

I agree with Elizabeth. I think it is really interesting how the school gave a less strict punishment to those students who had higher GPA's or were star athletes. It is ocmpletely unjust. I already think that the school should let the students protest. During the video it said that it was a peaceful protest, I understand that this could have possibly still been a distraction, but it still demonstrated their rights to free speech.
This makes me wonder how things would be handeled here at school. We have never really had protests, at least that I know of. I just wonder how our administration would have handled it. Would they have given favorable punishments as well?