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Morton West High School Victory -- for ALL of us

By       Message Mars Caulton     Permalink
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The anti-war student protestors who faced a two year suspension from ALL Illinois schools are returning to school today and tomorrow.  I'm struck by the language used by the principal in announcing this -- well, not TOO struck. 
He works overtime to say they deserved the threatened punishment; that he was simply abiding by set policy about allowable conduct in school; that the students were very wrong in their actions; and that all of the outpouring of support for them was a shameful "using children" for political purposes.

Here are two portions of his very windy statement (http://www.jsmortonhs.com/news/contentview.asp?i=203960):
"The incident that led to the suspensions had nothing to do with our students' First Amendment rights. Some with political agendas have tried to cloud the matter with politically-charged appeals about policies over which this district has no authority. It is unfortunate that they would seek to use children to advance their political agendas. The fact is that Morton students are encouraged to think for themselves and to express their views, whatever those views may be.

The incident that led to the suspensions had everything to do with disruption of the school day. While we respect the rights of students to express their views, that must be done in such a way as to respect the rights of the other 3,400 students at Morton West who are entitled to a peaceful, disruption-free school day."

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"Subsequent to the incident in which the students in question clearly and purposely acted in defiance of the school code, district policies and local law enforcement, we initiated the district's disciplinary process, again consistent with the school code and district policies.

We followed that process from the information gathering phase to the suspension appeals phase to the evaluation and recommendation phase concluded today.

Based on the evidence gathered and in light of the suspensions that have been served to date, the administration has decided to reduce the suspensions of the remaining 18 students in the following manner: 14 of the 18 students will be cleared to return to class on Wednesday, November 14; the remaining 4 students who bore more culpability for the disruption that occurred in the opinion of this administration will be cleared to return to class on Friday, November 16.
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As the administration has made no recommendations for expulsion, the aforementioned decisions do not require school board approval.

Parents of the students in question will be notified of the administration's decision.

We believe the consequences administered sent a clear and convincing message to Morton students of the penalties associated with disobeying the school code in a way that is disruptive of the educational process. It is important to this administration that parents are secure in the knowledge that district officials will take all necessary steps to maintain a safe learning environment for students, teachers and staff.

We also believe the consequences administered strike the appropriate balance in favor of allowing the punished students to learn from their mistakes and continue on with their education."

The real victory isn't that "We pushed really hard so we won!" 
Yes, numbers count.  Yes, MEDIA ATTENTION counts.  Yes, it was correct for our side to clearly focus on their right to protest this war, even if it causes some disruption to routine.

But the main things that happened were about community building.  Eyes opening more.  Parents standing behind their students as adults -- not just complaining and demanding but posing solutions and TEACHING the school about the issues there.  That they reached broadly, often with clear words about the political nature of this issue, was key. 

They consistantly fought to change the terms of debate:

School:  It's about disruption of the school day.
Parents:  Then why wasn't the kid who brought a SEMI-AUTOMATIC to school last month suspended?
School:  This isn't political.
Parents:  Given the onslaught of military recruiting at this high school, it absolutely IS their response to the political climate and messages surrounding this school.

As an activist, I'm so proud of these young people.  As a mom, I'm so proud of their families, especially those who took leadership roles in organizing individuals into a united, diverse voice.  It reminds me that schools don't just teach our children.  Schools AND our children teach ALL of us.



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Armed with word, song, and sequencer, Mars delivers social analysis, dreams and blueprints for change. She survived the 1999 National Poetry Slam, has performed all over Chicago, and has been a featured speaker at many political rallies. Born in New (more...)

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Morton West High School Victory -- for ALL of us