COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- Students at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High School are waging a war on peace.Recently, sophomore Skylar Stains decided to hold Peace Shirt Thursdays at the school. Skylar and her friend, Lauren Lorraine, started wearing peace shirts and soon recruited more friends to wear them. Now, the "Peace Shirt Coalition" as they call themselves, has close to 30 students from all grades.
"We've worn handmade peace shirts every Thursday since the first week of school, without fail," Skylar said.
But what started out as a light-hearted gesture soon started to be taken out of context.
Students started approaching the group members, yelling obscene things at them, said Lauren.
"People just turned on us like that," she said. "At least 10 boys stood up and yelled things at me at once, and we couldn't even walk through the halls without a harsh comment being made."
The heckling began early in the school year, according to group members. They said they were putting small posters promoting peace on friends' lockers with their permission.
They thought it was OK, because the cheerleaders and football players had signs on theirs. Eventually, though, group members said they were told by the school's administration they could no longer hang up the posters.
"People tore them down and drew swastikas and 'white power' stuff on them," Lauren said.
Skylar had similar things written on her posters.
"Someone taped an 'I Love Bush' sign over my 'Wage Peace' sign," she said. "So I tore it down, threw it away, and the whole commons starting booing. I walk by later and find that someone has completely tore my sign down and placed an 'I Love America, Because America Loves War' sign up."
Lori Masterson, assistant principal at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High, said by law, the administration cannot discuss specific discipline dispositions for students but that the school works with teachers and coaches to make sure all students on campus are safe and treated fairly.
She said all students have the opportunity to form clubs and organizations on campus, but those wishing to do so must identify a sponsor and bring their written proposal to the principal outlining what the proposed group's purpose and goals are.
"As of this writing, to my knowledge, no one has submitted a written proposal with an identified sponsor for a peace club," Masterson said in an e-mailed statement.
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But peace group members said they have submitted a written proposal and had a written sponsor, but they were recently turned down.
Skylar and Lauren said that despite the backlash, the T-shirts and posters originally had nothing to do with politics, but the outburst from opposing groups have turned it into a political issue.
"People just kept putting words into our mouths, like we said this or that about current politics," Lauren said. "But we didn't say anything."
Soon, a second group started to wear Confederate flag shirts to oppose the peace group, Skylar said. She saw shirts with sayings such as "This is America, get used to it," and "If peace is the answer; it must be a stupid question."
"Now there are even 'support our troops' kids who don't like us because I guess they think you can't say peace and support the troops at the same time," Lauren said.
Skylar later passed out yellow ribbons for her group to wear to show they support the troops as well as peace.
However, Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High sophomores Lydia Pace and Joseph Marianetti said the Confederate shirts they wear express support for the troops in Iraq, and nothing more. Joseph said the shirts have nothing to do with racism.
"Someone took something that stood for peace and twisted it" in regards to the swastikas (drawn by a third group) and the Confederate flag, he said.
The harassment at school seems to have died down a bit, but the war still rages on MySpace. According to Skylar, Lauren and Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High sophomore Cheyenne Riley, threats and harsh comments have been posted on their pages.
On John Lennon's birthday, the group held an honorary Peace Shirt day and was confronted even more than usual, eventually causing some group members, including Cheyenne, to break down in tears.
The peace group members say their shirts continue to draw negative comments from some students, but point out that other school groups don't receive similar treatment.
"Since peace is causing other problems, the peace kids are being punished," Skylar said.
Visit the Peace T-shirt page.
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