In a victory for grassroots antiwar forces, administration officials at a suburban Chicago high school dropped expulsion threats leveled against students who staged an on-campus antiwar demonstration. The turnaround by Morton West High School Superintendent Ben Nowakowski came on Nov. 13, following two weeks of protest by Chicago peace, social justice and civil rights organizations.
The turmoil at Morton West began on Nov. 1, when, in response to the presence of military recruiters on campus, approximately 60 students began a peaceful sit-in outside the school. Administrators accused the students of “gross disobedience and mob activity,” resulting in 10-day suspensions and possible expulsions for two dozen students.
“We weren’t violent in any way,” Jonathon Acevedo told the Chicago Tribune. “We were holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’ and the song ‘Give Peace a Chance.’” Acevedo had been one of the students facing the threat of expulsion.
“This entire incident is outrageous. The school missed out on a wonderful teachable moment,” said Rita Maniotis, president of the Parent Teacher Organization and the mother of a disciplined student, during a Nov. 7 district meeting. “Instead, they cracked down on them right away and turned it into a punitive situation.” Parents and students had also accused the administration of doling out lighter punishments to athletes and those with higher GPAs.
Following the Nov. 7 meeting, pressure on the district increased, and was capped by a large antiwar rally on Nov. 12 outside the school. According to Morton West parent Pam Winstead, suspended students have been meeting to make plans to continue their protest and educate the student body about the war. Several students will speak at an Iraq Moratorium rally in Chicago on Friday, Nov. 16.