What should schools do when they become the target of hate groups?
Some Washington area schools are being targeted for protests by an extremist church from Kansas whose website attacks gays, blacks, Jews and other minorities, as well as any whites who manage to get along with them.
On Monday, Westboro Baptist Church members protested at private Sidwell School's middle and upper school campus in the District, where President Obama’s two daughters attend. Yesterday it was Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Montgomery County because, the group's website says, the school has a diversity club. And later in the day it was Sidwell's lower school campus in Bethesda.
Westboro, in an effort to stir controversy and gain publicity, stages protests around the country and announces many more protests than it actually holds. Military funerals are a special target, on the church's theory that fallen troops are God’s punishment for a country tolerant of homosexuals.
On Monday ffive Westboro representatives were met by several hundred Sidwell students and adults dressed in rainbow colors and holding signs with positive messages. The same thing happened yesterday at BCC, five Westboro representatives found hundreds of students and BCC staff stood together quietly holding signs with messages of tolerance and peace.
Before the protests, parents exchanged e-mails debating the best way to react to Westboro. Some argued for using the situation to let students engage in civic action by banding together to stand up for their beliefs.
"In my opinion, BCC community members are right to use this as a teachable moment," said one parent e-mail. "How can diversity be honored within healthy communities? How can healthy people respond when an unprovoked attack occurs on people they care about? How do we show love (a universal value) in the face of hate?"
Others said that it was best to ignore the group, arguing that Westboro loves publicity, even when it is negative. Said one parent e-mail: "Please use your heads! If you threw a party and no one showed up. .. would you throw another one anytime soon?"
Here’s a message sent out to the school’s parents by the principal intern, Bennie W. Green, after yesterday's events:
Dear B-CC Parents,
The protest by the WBC and the counter protest by our students went off without incident.
The WBC was represented by three adults and two children. B-CC was represented by several hundred students and many of our staff. There was also a significant police presence in the area.
From the beginning, you would have been proud as our students silently demonstrated their solidarity with one another by standing together and displaying signs with positive messages. Throughout the counter protest students communicated a sense of unity and respect for each other.
The counter protest concluded at 7:24 a.m. with an impressive recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. After the protest concluded, students immediately proceeded to their first period class.
During the beginning of first period, I praised the students for their maturity, self-control, and the positive way in which they represented B-CC. They were great!
Bennie W. Green, Principal Intern
Bethesda Chevy Chase High School
Here’s the question: Should schools ignore protesters with messages of hate or use the occasion to encourage students to make their own anti-hate stand?
| November 11, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Civics Education, High School | Tags: Sidwell Friends School, hate groups
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