Hononegah High School put on notice for discriminating against opposingviewpoints during student walk outs
CHICAGO – A Hononegah High School student was treated unfairly by school officials when she attempted to express a view in favor of gun rights during events related to the March 14th walkouts around the country. The ACLU of Illinois yesterday sent a letter to Dr. Lynn Gibson, Superintendent of District 207, calling on District leadership to ensure that similar discrimination does not occur in the future. The ACLU sent the letter, in part, because of the range of student-led activities happening around the nation, including events planned for April 20th in many schools.
In advance of the March 14 walkout, Madison Oster decided to carry a sign expressing pro-gun views during that event. Her father Jeremy reached out to the school to confirm that signs would be permitted for students during the walkout. At no time was Madison or her father ever told that her participation would be affected by her viewpoint.
Between 50 and 75 students at Hononegah High School participated in the walkout in March. They were monitored by school personnel. The ACLU’s letter notes that “Madison and about five other pro-gun students were made to wait until all of their classmates had exited. The other students gathered about halfway down on the football field.” But an Assistant Principal would not allow Madison and those who shared her view to go onto the field, requiring them to stand behind a fence with their signs.
The Assistant Principal told Madison that the school didn’t want her to make trouble or cause a “riot.”
“A handful of students holding signs expressing political beliefs is hardly cause for a riot,” said Rebecca Glenberg, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU and author of the letter. “A public school should encourage all students to express themselves and not discriminate against any viewpoint.”
After the walkout was complete, school officials held Madison and her group to the side as the larger student group marched by, shouting taunts and taking pictures of the group. The Assistant Principal did not say anything about that conduct, but instead warned Madison and her allies not to “bully” the other students.
“I had to leave school early that day,” said Madison Oster, the student who expressed herself. “I felt that the school completely disrespected my viewpoint. ”
“At a time of deep polarization in our country, public schools should be teaching students how to discuss differences of opinion respectfully, rather than stigmatizing one side of a public policy debate,” said Glenberg. “The school’s action sent the wrong message to students.”
The ACLU letter calls on the school to assure that this discrimination is not repeated at future events and that the school respects all positions held by students.
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