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Parents Rip Morton Superintendent Over Possible Expulsions

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Parents Rip Morton Superintendent Over Possible Expulsions

Speakers address the District 201 Board of Education meeting Wednesday night.

Parents, activists and students ripped into the leader of Morton High School District 201 at last night’s Board of Education meeting, for his handling of an in-school protest of the Iraq War. Twenty-five students in the district—which covers parts of Berwyn and Cicero—were suspended for ten days and face possible expulsions over the demonstration. Chicago Public Radio’s Jay Field reports.

From the moment the protest at Morton West High School ended, a week ago, parents of the suspended students have been accusing district leaders of overreacting. Last night, they packed a school auditorium, along with teachers and anti-war, free speech and students’ rights activists. But before they could talk, the Board of Education first gave Morton Superintendent Ben Nowakowski the chance to give his version of what happened.

NOWAKOWSKI: Staging the protest in the cafeteria, rather than outside of the school, created an environment which, if not contained, could have caused harm to many people. Regardless of reports to the contrary, this was not a peaceful demonstration.

Nowakowski alleges the students grew rowdy, after they refused his demand to take the demonstration outside.

Booing and groaning continued, periodically, throughout the rest of the superintendent’s comments. Then, seven days of pent-up frustration—on the part of parents—erupted.

RODRIGUEZ: My son wants to come back to school. He wants to learn. Don’t take his education away from him.

Danny Rodriguez implored Board members to do the right thing and reinstate his son. Why, he wondered aloud, was the school locked down, when all the kids did was lock arms, sit down, chant and sing songs?

HEFFERNAN: Hi. My name is Mary Rose Heffernan. I’m a parent of one of the students facing expulsion. And I’d like to read a quote from someone you probably all know. His name is John E. Lucas.

Lucas, the principal at Morton West, sent a letter out to all parents after the demonstration.

HEFFERNAN: This disturbance was non-violent. Throughout the day, classes were held, lunches were served and order was maintained. With this letter as proof that this was a minor incident, I’m asking you to reconsider your decision to expel my son and all the other children facing expulsion.

Activists also demanded that Nowakowski and the Board reinstate the students and drop the threat of expulsion. And the American Civil Liberties Union is now pressing the Morton district to re think the punishments. Board members and district officials will be weighing the students’ cases in the coming days.

I’m Jay Field, Chicago Public Radio.

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