Imagine you're a public high school principal and you've learned of a student walkout that's been in the works for months. This is an unacceptable disruption to the learning environment of which you are hired by the county and paid by the taxpayers to preserve. Also imagine the ringleaders of the walkout organized the protest via Twitter, and so you are able to find the organizers and give them a 5-day suspension. But that's when it hits the fan because the Occupy movement and other left-wing agitators start to make a stink about it online, ensuring, of course, local media coverage that's bound to paint you in a negative light.
That's exactly the pickle Edgar Batenga is in. The principal of Hyattsville, Maryland's Northwestern High School was painted by Washington Post writer Ovetta Wiggins today as a free speech-stifling, overly strict disciplinarian. Naturally, Wiggins began her 28-paragraph story by painting the chief student organizer as a victim (emphasis mine):
One week, Shane James, an honor roll student at Northwestern High School in Prince George’s County, was lauded for his political activism.
The next, he was removed from classes for attempting to effect change.
Northwestern Principal Edgar Batenga suspended James, 16, and three other students on March 1 for organizing a walkout to increase teacher pay, improve the quality of education and demand an apology to Filipino teachers who will lose their jobs because their visas will expire.
“We were trying to be politically active and show our concern for education,” said Boris Mitiuriev, 18, a senior who planned to participate in the walkout. “It’s just outrageous.”
The suspensions have created a firestorm. Many, including community leaders and Occupy protesters, argue that the students’ rights to free speech and to assemble appear to have been violated. They are demanding that the suspensions be removed from the students’ permanent records.
“I am really upset,” said Danielle Duvall, James’s mother. “My son didn’t do anything that was illegal or wrong. He’s not a troublemaker. He’s one of the good guys.”
Wiggins did go on to explain the principal's rationale, and noted that "more than 400 members of the 2,274-member student body prepared to participate." That's some 17 percent of the students that planned to walk out of class, a disruption to classroom order that is unacceptable.
"My intention was never to suppress anyone's viewpoint," Wiggins quoted Batenga.
With that out of the way, Wiggins went back to work painting the suspended students as having been penalized for their politics.
"I read history, and I know activists are not the most loved people... I knew they would try to intimidate me," Wiggins quoted an anonymous suspended student. "They said they were concerned about riots and people's health and safety... This wasn't Occupy London. It's not Egypt, where people are throwing rocks at the military," Mitiuriev groused to Wiggins.
Yet nowhere in her article did Wiggins cite reaction from a parents of students at the school, particularly parents of students who didn't attempt to walk out on March 1, the "National Student Day of Action."
Presumably there are quite a few parents who are supportive of the principal and/or who believe students walkouts are inappropriate disruptions of crucial classroom time.
But citing those contrary viewpoints would have soured the favorable narrative Wiggins had going.
"The goal of the walkout was to politicize the community and to start a dialogue... I think it was a success," Wiggins quoted James in the article's closing paragraph.