Student-run petition meets opposition from principal, students fight backMonday, June 04, 2012 By Noel Nevarez and Elizabeth Sanchez
The United States Bill of Rights protects individuals, under the first amendment, of freedom of speech, press, religion, and the freedom to a peaceable assembly, so shouldn’t this apply to students in school as well? This is what students at Ánimo Leadership in South Los Angeles are asking themselves after an incident on May 1, 2012. A student began a petition that circulated around the school demanding that a teacher who had been fired, return. The Petition was begun by the student group Junior Statesmen of America, and was soon stopped by school officials. But many people are wondering whether or not it was right for school officials to do such thing? Current 11th grader at Ánimo Leadership, Erick Castillo, said the school principal had no right to take the petition away. Free speech “is a fundamental right,” Erick said. The petition took place in the morning, outside of school, therefore students had the right to petition since they were following the education code, Erick said. The students might have been following code yet still many teachers around the school are not quite supportive of the students for unknown reasons. This incident caused Erick to feel “embarrassed to be part of the school” that would take away such rights, he said. Although the principal and vice principal might have shut down the student-run petition, the students do not want the administration to be punished in anyway, Erick said. “We realize it probably wasn’t their choice to violate our rights so we do not want any form of punishment towards them,” he said. Marco Petruzzi, CEO of Green Dot schools, said that the students have the right to petition. “[Students] have the right to petition as long as it doesn’t disrupt the learning environment of other students... or the rights of other students,” Petruzzi said. “Within certain guidelines you have a lot of freedom.” According to both Petruzzi and the students at Leadership, their petition violated no district rules whatsoever. “You have the right to petition on whatever you want as long as you do not violate the rights of others,” Petruzzi said. Although Petruzzi said he believes nothing went wrong, others are creating rumors and speculations to damage the Green Dot Reputation. “There’s clearly some people who are trying to destroy the Green Dot Reputation through false statements,” Petruzzi said. “We are currently investigating some of the allegations and so far have found no facts to support them.” One of the accusations is that Ánimo Leadership principal Julio Murcia used violence-baiting in messages to parents. “He’s claiming that Principal Murcia is threatening violence,” Petruzzi said. “Instead, it is his role as principal to insure that the students are safe at school.” Although most students may be unaware of their First Amendment rights in school, Green Dot has an official policy on free expression. The policy states, “Students should exercise these rights reasonably and avoid violating the rights of others. Students who violate the rights of others or violate school policies or rules will be subject to disciplinary measures.” Murcia said he was protecting the confidentiality of a school employee by confiscating the petitions. “When he reported it to us, we told him he could not do that,” Petruzzi said. “He cannot deny the right to petition and, in fact, the students petitioned and rallied for the rest of the week.” The incident brought many speculations and reports, but nobody that participated was disciplined. “The principal interpreted the policy manual that it was his duty to restrict petitions that violated somebody else’s rights,” Petruzzi said. With much buzz around this incident at Leadership, many were quick to point fingers and blame the principal for his actions taken. Murcia’s actions were based off of impulse. “I took the petitions away from the students because, when I saw them happening it was early in the morning. I didn’t know what was going on,” Murcia said. Because it was unknown to the principal how much the students knew about the firing of a teacher, he felt as if it was his duty to protect her privacy and stop the petition. Although Murcia called in the students petitioning and took away the signatures they collected, he allowed for the students to continue doing what they felt they needed to as the days went by. Murcia said he might have allowed the students to continue their petitioning but he felt as if his primary action in taking the petition was the right thing to do. The students who took part in the petition were inclusively forced to write a statement on the incident as well as state who forced them to participate in such an event, but Murcia says, “It wasn’t about punishment, it was more about finding out what was going on so I can have control of the school.” Murcia said he believes in a student’s freedom of speech and feels as if he did not violate the Leadership student’s freedom of speech at all.