Thursday, November 08, 2007

In Defense of the Morton West Antiwar Students

(Written by Columbia College Chicago Students for a Democratic Society)

We are writing in defense of the students who now face excessive disciplinary actions at the hands of various Morton West school administrators. Our sympathies lie with the courageous and moral struggle that the students have taken up, and with their parents who still support them. The struggle for a peaceful and just society absent of war should not be met with punishment, but should be supported by the community as a whole, especially from within the educational setting. Furthermore, It is our firm belief that an injury to freedom for students anywhere is an injury to freedom for students everywhere. This is why we urge all Morton West administrators to drop all disciplinary action against the said students, and to remove any indications of said events from their permanent records. We urge you to respect these students right to free expression now and in the future.

btw, this is one of today's Chicago Sun-Times editorials:

Unfair penalty for students who spoke up

November 8, 2007

Teenagers today seem to care more about their iPods and Xboxes than what's happening in the world. One informal survey of students at a local college found that half couldn't name the country where Saddam Hussein ruled. For readers who need a tip sheet, it's Iraq.

We're all about practicing our constitutional rights at this newspaper and certainly believe students should be encouraged to voice their opinion. It's too easy today for kids to be apathetic and self-centered, so we applaud those who express any interest in our government's foreign policy.

That is why we think the reported five- and 10-day suspensions and possible expulsions of up to 25 students at Morton West High School are extreme punishment for students who staged a sit-in protest in the school cafeteria on Nov. 1.

The students are certainly getting a lesson about the personal costs of civil disobedience. First they were protesting the war in Iraq -- a position we happen to support -- and then other students protested their suspensions.

School Supt. Ben Nowakowski has said that school officials asked the students to move their protest outside the school grounds. Students said they feared arrest because the police were outside the school waiting, including several police cars and a police van. After some negotiating -- and what teenager doesn't do this? -- students agreed to move from the cafeteria to a hallway by the principal's office. The students thought the school was condoning their protest by giving them an assigned staging area.

"They agreed we would not be punished if we moved," sophomore Adam Szwarek told us. "What we tried to do is something meaningful to protest the war and the soldiers dying every day."

Soon they learned there were severe consequences for speaking out. Although police described the protest in the school as peaceful and orderly, the disciplinary notices sent out by the school characterized the demonstration as "mob activity." School officials argue that the sit-in did not involve the issue of free speech. We disagree.

Perhaps the students were causing disorder by their protests, but isn't that the point? If the school wants to discipline the students for their minor disorderly conduct, then it should send them to a Saturday detention. (Who hasn't seen "The Breakfast Club" in its constant cable airings?) But to suspend the students for a week, or two, or to kick them out of school, jeopardizes their grades and their chances of going to college. And it sends a message that if you want to get ahead in life, kids, think of yourselves and your own futures, and not the future of the world.