RainbowPush Coalition Fights for Suspended Students to Return to Morton West Classes

NOVEMBER 13, 2007
9:26 AM

CONTACT:  RainbowPush Coalition
Rashida Restaino 773-256-2714 / 773-791-0014 rrestaino@rainbowpush.org
Lauren Love 773-256-2714

RainbowPush Coalition Fights for Suspended Students to Return to Morton West Classes

BERWYN, Ill. - November 13 - On this Veteran's Day, in a lot adjacent to Morton West High School in west suburban Berwyn, Rev. Greg Livingston, national field secretary for Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and other leaders joined parents and students fighting for the youngsters’ right to return to school after more than 30 students have been suspended – and 17 of them threatened with expulsion -- for participating in a peaceful anti-war sit-in at their high school.

"This is an overreaction," said Rev. Livingston. "America’s veterans fought in wars to protect our rights to free speech. And Rainbow PUSH Coalition will file a lawsuit against District 201 if the students' right to free speech continues to be compromised."

Last week some 70 students participated in a sit-in in the school cafeteria. Matt Heffernan, a junior at Morton West, was one of them and said they were told they could not stay in that room because it would disrupt the lunch period. "We did what they told us to do," he said. "Even the police said we weren't doing anything wrong. Some students returned to class throughout the day and the students who were still there at 2:45 p.m. were given suspension slips."

Morton West parents have been trying to meet with the Superintendent Ben Nowakowski but were unable to reach him last week. They are very dissatisfied and would like other parents to come forward.

Pam Winstead, mother of student Mark Serpico, said students have been out without receiving homework assignments, and even those who return to school early are still at risk for expulsion. "They are being punished for having a conscience,” she said. “We support our troops and our kids who care about what is happening to them."

Dr. Bonita Carr, national director of education for Rainbow PUSH Coalition, called the superintendent's measures an abuse of power. "Just as in the case of the Jena 6, here is another case where the superintendent has gone wild with control," Dr. Carr said.

Heffernan said the students simply wanted to make a statement to their classmates about the war in Iraq. "We wanted to show them that peace is possible,” he said. “We are showing our support to the troops and that we want to bring them home."

A spokesperson from the school spoke to reporters after the press conference, saying that the students are being punished for disrupting school.

Rainbow PUSH Coalition is demanding that the students’ suspensions end, along with the threat of expulsion, and those students have opportunities to catch up with their courses and homework assignments. A policy is needed to protect students’ freedom of speech.

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a progressive organization protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity. The organization is headquartered at 930 E. 50th St., Chicago. To learn more, please visit www.rainbowpush.org, or call (773) 373-3366. To interview Rev. Jackson, please call the number above.