High school students and teachers across the nation faced punishment for acts that would have likely gone unquestioned before the terrorist attacks. As administrators struggled to find a delicate balance between patriotism and tolerance, the rights of students and teachers took a beating.
In November, a West Virginia judge upheld Sissonville High School’s suspension of Katie Sierra for distributing leaflets inviting students to join an anti-war and pro-anarchy club. The school also took issue with an anti-war shirt that Sierra wore on campus. The West Virginia Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal of the ruling, though Sierra is still considering a lawsuit in federal court.
Kanawha County Circuit Judge James Stucky sided with the school board, saying that while free speech is ‘sacred,’ such rights are ‘tempered by the limitations that they ‘ not disrupt the educational process.’
Roger Forman, Sierra’s attorney, said she is being punished for her ‘political speech.’
At Fairview High School in Ohio, a student was punished for being too patriotic. On Oct. 3, Aaron Petitt was suspended 10 days for hanging posters he made showing aerial bombings of Afghanistan. The school claimed the posters might be offensive to Arab-American students.
In an Oct. 9 ruling, U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. ordered the school to reinstate Petitt. On Nov. 30, the lawsuit was settled for $24,000, mainly going toward Petitt’s legal fees. He is also free to display his posters.
RStudents were not the only ones to come under the ire of heightened sensitivity.
In Pennsylvania, at Rooney Middle School in Pittsburgh, substitute teacher John Gardner was suspended when the school thought he had written comments supporting Osama bin Laden.
Gardner jotted down a quote, ‘Osama bin Laden did us a favor,’ in the margin of a newspaper as he heard it said on television. When school administrators saw the paper on Sept. 20, Gardner was escorted off school grounds by police and suspended indefinitely. The suspension was lifted on Sept. 21, once the school learned Gardner had written down the quote for a book he is writing.
An art teacher was suspended from a Florida school after she allowed students in her second-grade class to share their feelings artistically in relation to the terrorist attacks.
Addison Mizner Elementary School in Boca Raton placed Patricia Bowes on indefinite suspension following a parental complaint about sketches of the attacks. Some images included a brick falling on a child’s head and buildings crumbling. The sketches were done on Sept. 12 as a project portraying students’ life stories.