Disproportionate Punishment For Anti-War Demo
Parents, activists rip school board
Officials overreacted to protest, they say
Morton West High School teacher Gale Holmlund told board members
that her classroom and others at the school were not disrupted by the protest.
By Joseph Ruzich
Special to the Chicago Tribune
November 9, 2007
Anti-war and free-speech advocates joined angry parents and students in their battle with Berwyn school district officials who may expel a group of students who took part in an Iraq war protest at a school last week.
The lunchtime protest Nov. 1 in the Morton West High School cafeteria was viewed as a peaceful sit-in by students, but school officials charged two dozen of them with "gross disobedience and mob activity," which call for suspensions and possible expulsions.
The activists joined parents, students and teachers at a District 201 meeting Wednesday, during which board members were implored to reconsider the punishments.
"You are really courageous. I'm proud of what you did," Kaitlin McIntyre, a member of an anti-war group at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told students at the meeting. "The incident has gained international attention, and the world is behind you."
The school board chose to postpone a decision on the expulsions, drawing boos from the crowd.
"We need an answer tonight," said Rita Maniotis, president of the Parent Teacher Organization. "These kids need to go back to school."
District spokesman Dan Proft said that if board members decide to "move forward" on deciding the expulsions, they likely will call a special meeting next week. The next scheduled meeting is Dec. 5. Although the suspensions began Nov. 2, Proft said suspensions not yet served could be handled "in-house," extended or dropped.
Parents and students say that penalties were too harsh -- and unfairly dispensed -- for some of those involved in the protest. More than a dozen parents at the meeting in the Morton East auditorium told the board that students who play varsity athletics or have a high grade point average were given less stringent penalties.