A difficult task
Editorial reprinted from the Hollis Brookline Journal, October 19, 2001
By Michael Cleveland
One of the balancing acts that high school principals perform is how to give students enough freedom without giving them too much. There is a fine line between diverse opinions and anarchy, and high school students are not always aware of when they have crossed that line.
So it generally falls to the principal to make tough decisions, as Dr. Frank Bass of Hollis/Brookline High School did recently when he told a student that she could not hang her peace rally posters in the school.
Ashley Irvine, a junior, is concerned about the US bombing of Afghanistan and organized a rally for Saturday at noon outside Nashua City Hall--she has a permit from the city and has notified Nashua police--so that she and other students and adults of like minds can air their views.
She wanted to publicize the rally via posters in the school, but Dr. Bass said no.
We understand the principal's concern. Hollis/Brookline students have a variety of interests, a variety of causes, and if everyone were permitted to paper the school with posters, it would get out of hand. The potential for disruption is real: suppose students see someone hanging a poster and decide to debate the issue in the hallways? It might not be the best use of school time and could lead to serious arguments. And some of Ms. Irvine's posters were inflammatory and inappropriate.
Dr. Bass undoubtedly took all of this into consideration when he made his decision, and it is not a bad decision.
What concerns us is Dr. Bass's decision to allow other posters of a similar nature to be hung throughout the school. A group of local bands is putting on "Rockin' for Relief", a concert to raise money for the Red Cross. It is, of course, a noble cause and one undoubtedly every student supports, including Ms. Irvine.
But peace is important, too, and Ms. Irvine's determination to send a message that is probably at odds with the consensus of opinion in this nation is something that needs to be respected and encouraged. Ms. Irvine has a difference of opinion about the way we are conducting our war on terrorism and she has a right to that opinion.
It is too late now, of course, to do anything for Ms. Irvine, but we suggest that the school board and the school administration come up with a clear and formal policy about posters in the school. Perhaps there could be one central place where posters could be hung and perhaps each organization or "cause" could be limited to a single poster.
Making these decisions is no easy task for Dr. Bass, and anyone in his position is going to err on the side of caution almost automatically. Who can blame him? He has a school to run, first and foremost.
Still, students like Ms. Irvine must be encouraged to do what they believe to be right, and they need to know that school administrators respect their courage. There are few voices crying "Peace" at the moment and they need to be heard.
Ms. Irvine's rally will not keep America from fighting terrorism, but it is good for our leaders in Washington to know that not everyone is in agreement. A free nation is about dissent, about differences of opinion.
We sympathize with Dr. Bass, but we think that, next time, some compromise should be reached.