At Lawrence Park collegiate, where I'm a grade 12 student, exercising the rights and freedoms they teach us about in law class can end up landing you in hot water with the principal.That's exactly where I found myself recently after posting flyers around my school about the peace rally that was to take place in front of the U.S. Consulate last Thursday (March 27) afternoon.
I had all the posters approved by one of the vice-principals. I understood full well that board policy states, "No material may be distributed on school property without the approval of the administration."
I thought I was being a good citizen.
But later that afternoon our principal, Michael Rethazi, ordered all the posters removed.
His justification? I'm still trying to figure that out.
In the first meeting I had with Mr. Rethazi, he asked me to explain to him the difference between my posters and the swastikas recently drawn in the bathrooms.
But how could there be any confusion between swastikas and Picasso's Guernica, which was one of the images we used on the posters?
Mr. Rethazi's main concern seems to be that the school could be held liable should students who attend the rally be injured.
I find his explanation hard to fathom, since the rally was scheduled to take place after school hours at 5 pm.
Representatives from the Canadian military were at our school recently on a recruiting drive. Does my principal believe students are more likely to be injured at a peace rally than if they join the military?
Mr. Rethazi has suggested I should be collecting Coke bottle caps -- which are made of pure aluminum and can be used to make wheelchairs -- if I'm really interested in helping the children in Iraq.
I suspect his real concern is that not everyone at my school is in favour of peace in Iraq. And for that reason I shouldn't be able to express my point of view.
It's been interesting to hear Mr. Rethazi suggest that I've been, to use his words, "creating a negative atmosphere," especially since the school board recently passed a motion asserting its respect for universal human rights in this time of war.
I fear we're dealing with an administration at our school that feels comfortable curtailing the rights and freedoms of all students.
Some teachers have offered quiet support, but others I've approached tell me they feel uncomfortable expressing their opinions.
My friends and I will not sit idly by. We are circulating a petition demanding an apology on behalf of the students at Lawrence Park. We collected 250 signatures (out of a student body of 900) on our first day.
Michael Rethazi responds:
"I did take the posters down. I explained to her as clearly as I could that the only way I can advertise an event is if I condone that event. And I'm not in a position to sanction something that I'm not organizing, because I cannot ensure student safety. If a 14-year-old kid goes to this and something happens, then I would be personally liable. It's not like this is a taboo topic... that I don't want to talk about war or that I don't want to talk about peace. We do not need to stick our heads in the sand. There are ways to approach (the issue of war in Iraq), but we need to do it in a way that's safe, so we don't cross some lines where only one side is represented. We may be at an impasse."