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Ire, Harsh Words
Sparked by Protest

By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE — March 11, 2003 – Nicole Spafford feels like she’s been lied to.
The Sullivan West/Jeff-Youngsville junior has been taught all her life to stand up for what she believes in.
But when she walked out Wednesday – along with approximately 35 other ninth through 11th graders – to protest the impending war in Iraq, she became persona non grata at her school.
Punishments were handed down that many parents and students feel are extremely harsh, considering the students’ actions.
“We’ve always been told to do one thing, then we get in trouble for it,” she said. “We’re treated like we did something violent.”
Spafford and her classmates walked out along with thousands of other teens in America Wednesday morning as part of the national “Books Not Bombs” protest put together by students and peace proponents.
According to Superintendent Michael Johndrow, the morning announcements warned students not to step out of the building, or they would be punished.
As an alternative, they were told, a bulletin board would be cleared for students to post their opinions on the war, sort of an open forum for protesting.
But the students walked out anyway around 11:15 a.m., some because they have relatives in the military whom they don’t want to see on the front lines this year, others because they don’t want war to hit home in Jeffersonville.
Building Principal Margie Tenbus followed to tell the protesters she would allow them to make their point until noon, but then they would have to return to classes.
“She told us it was a good thing we were doing,” Spafford recalls. “She said she was proud of us, but that we had to go inside at noon.”
When the lunch alarm rang in town, about 12 students trooped back into the school building.
According to Johndrow, those students were given a day-and-a-half of in-school suspension for their disobedience. Those who stayed longer, until around 1 p.m., faced a heavier sentence, approximately three-and-a-half days.
The students who stayed outside marched around the building with anti-war signs and sat around to talk about the war.
Spafford said she has friends in the military, and she’s adamantly against war of any kind.
And she wanted to stand up for that belief, even with the punishments that came.
“I figured we’d have some kind of suspension or detention, but I thought everyone would have the same thing,” she said.
Instead, Spafford said, there are students who were outside for the entire duration of the protest who received only one day of in-school suspension.
Spafford and her sister, Michelle, however, received three-and-a-half days in a room they refer to as the “dungeon,” a locker room filled with 36 protesting kids.
Schoolwork is sent down for the students, but it’s tough, Nicole Spafford said.
“How can you do work without instruction?” she asked.
Some students have up to six days of suspension for their actions, she continued. And other students said retribution has been in full effect from teachers in the district.
The sisters’ referrals say they used “threatening and intimidating behavior,” and “endangered the health, safety, morals or welfare of others.”
Poppycock, Spafford said.
“We were just trying to make our point,” she said, and they weren’t violent, nor did they try to force other students to take part in the walkout.
Because of the protest, some students had their National Honor Society status stripped, Spafford said, though Johndrow does not believe that is the case.
“It stinks for them because they worked so hard for this, and it’s taken away because they believed in something,” Spafford said.
Karen DiPane’s daughter, Moselle, was one of the children who walked out Wednesday, and she understands that the administration was put in a tough position.
“It’s a scary thing to think you’re losing control, and they didn’t have a lot of warning about this,” DiPane noted.
But there are two issues she as a parent wants to see addressed.
“We want a just punishment so it doesn’t linger, it doesn’t affect the senior trip or graduation,” DiPane noted. “And we want the educational opportunity that this is to be used.”
She suggested the district hold an assembly with representatives discussing both sides of the war, the military perspective and the peace perspective.
The major concern for her daughter and the other students, DiPane said, is that their decision to walk out has been written off by administrators.
“I think the students are really upset that they weren’t respected,” she said.
But things can be fixed, DiPane said, if the administration will put their heads together and develop a way to address the situation fairly – using the current events as a lesson to the students.
According to Johndrow, he and Tenbus set up a meeting for 3 p.m. Monday to meet with parents, discuss their options and hear their complaints.
He said he was not familiar with the intimate details of Wednesday’s proceedings, and Tenbus would be a better source.
However, the principal directed all her calls to the superintendent and did not reply to the Democrat’s calls for comment.

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