All-Saints Day anti-war protest results in 35 suspensions, threats of expulsion, in Cicero-Berwyn... 'Boneheaded' overreaction draws national attention to Morton West High School

“Boneheaded” was the word heard most often from parents, students, and anti-war activists who turned out, nearly 200 strong, for the November 7, 2007, meeting of the Board of Education of J. Sterling Morton High School District 201 in Cicero, Illinois.

The special meeting of the Board took place a week after the superintendent of the 8,000-student district, which serves grades 9 - 12 in suburban Cicero and Berwyn west of Chicago, supsended approximately 35 students who had taken part in a peaceful protest against military recruitment at Morton West High School on November 1.

By the time of the school board meeting, the harsh punishments for the anti-war students — who among other things were guilty of singing “Kumbaya” during their protest inside the school — had brought the town of Cicero back into national news.

Dozens of parents, students, teachers, and local anti-war activists denounced the school board during the meeting, which lasted until well after 10:00 p.m. Not one person spoke publicly in support of what the superintendent had done. Most speakers praised the anti-war protesters.

The Board ignored numerous calls for an immediate vote to end the expulsion proceedings against the students. Although there was initially some confusion, Substance was able to establish that the next meeting of the Board will be held on December 5, 2007, at 7:00 p.m. at Morton East High School (2423 S. Austin Ave.), according to the Morton Web site on November 12, 2007.

The school board members adjourned the meeting immediately after the last speaker had spoken. They then went to their cars behind an escort of heavily armed Cicero police officers. The officers had been stationed around the school auditorium during the meeting until citizens complained.

By November 11, the expulsion story had made major newspapers, including The New York Times and both Chicago dailies. A Chicago Sun-Times editorial called the expulsion threats stupid.

A benefit concert was planned for November 17 at Elmhurst College to raise money for legal defense of the anti-war students.

On November 12, at Substance press deadline, a number of students and their parents were joined by representatives of Operation PUSH (but not Rev. Jesse Jackson) at Morton West. At the event, the Rev. David Livingston, representing PUSH, said that PUSH was supporting a lawsuit on behalf of the students.

A Morton spokesman was quoted as saying that the school district was not going to negotiate with “demogagues” when asked by the Chicago Sun-Times about the PUSH statement.

According to parents and others involved with the cases, explusion hearings were being held during the week beginning November 12. By one account, a total of 37 students had been suspended for the November 1 actions, although other reports put the number at 25 or 35.

The editors of Substance have discussed the Morton situation and have decided to offer the students and their families the opportunity to publish their own accounts of what has been taking place in the pages of the December issue of Substance — and on the Substance website — if they choose to do so. ( or by phone at 773-725-7502).

Substance is also discussing how to report the Board of Education’s position on the subject, which is proving difficult. Supt. Nowakowski was not returning press calls for comment at Substance press time. 


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