See You Online 

Parents and Christians use Internet to fight for 'student rights'

There are student rights, and there are student rights.

I was dismayed, although not surprised, to hear that Judge Theresa Cisneros ruled in favor of the zero-tolerance czars in the Lewis-Palmer High School alcohol expulsions.

You know the case: The honor students took sips of alcohol on a band trip and later turned themselves in. They were expelled anyhow by a school board that doesn't have the balls to make the punishment fit the crime.

One particularly zealous parent, Chuck Piechota, took the battle to the Web (http://www.tso4u.com/lphs_expel/). Ever since, the site has attracted attention from desperate parents across the United States whose kids were similarly victimized by misguided schools and communities that think that denying kids basic civil rights will stop suburban gunplay. (So what's the answer when an expelled kid walks into school with an Uzi, a la fired postal workers?)

Cisneros ruled the kids broke the rules, thus deserved to be expelled. But, what if the rule is asinine and violates kids' and parental rights? Piechota is keeping on keeping on with his Web site and e-mail campaign. The families may appeal, but, regardless, Piechota's site serves as a common ground for parents whose kids are being targeted by thoughtless blanket policies instituted by folks charged with teaching our kids to think.

Piechota's site is vital during the hysteria following the Columbine massacre. Now, if anything, schools are stepping up their zero-tolerance efforts to snuff out any potential Harris-Kleibold replays. The sickest part is that the school administrators probably are smart enough to know tyranny won't work (even on kids) -- but they need a P.R. ploy to make communities feel safer.

The day after the shootings, for instance, a 12-year-old boy from Tampa, Fla., was targeted. His mother wrote via e-mail that the school counselor told her that her son was "'headed down the dark road to destruction' and 'will end up like those trench-coat-wearing kids in Colorado,' because he has long dark hair, doesn't attend church regularly, and is suspected of being a Satan worshipper!"

"By the way," the overwrought mom added, "he's been an honor roll student with no negative behavioral history." These stories abound.

Meantime, in the next pew, another type of student rights movement is gaining momentum. If you haven't surfed Christian Webring lately, you might not know that a whole bunch of adults are putting a whole bunch of effort into making sure kids can legally pray at school (they already can, but what, me quibble?).

This "students' rights" campaign also has stepped up since the Columbine shootings, with two of the murdered girls used as poster children for efforts by Focus on the Family (www.family.org) and other fundamentalist sites to put (their) God back into schools.

The logic goes: Organize prayer at school; violence ends. (Putting aside the us/them division this causes, the fact that many Bible-quoting Christians commit murder and that the Paducah, Ky., shooter fired into a before-school prayer circle -- it is entirely possible this may indeed help some kids.)

But most interesting, adult organizers of the Sept. 15 See you at the Pole national prayer events -- the San Diego-based National Network of Youth Ministries -- used the Web as a sophisticated organizing tool (www.syatp.com). The site lists several legal resources that explain why it is OK for groups of kids to pray in groups on school grounds before and after school (the legitimacy of outside groups organizing the campus prayer meets is a bit more ambiguous).

The site presents questions the students should ask: What will you pray for or about on that day? Should students wear Christian T-shirts promoting the day?

And if the students need those T-shirts, they're in luck: SYATP logo tees, polos, baseball caps, hip bucket hats, locker posters, wristbands, signed lithographs and backstage passes are available for order from SYATP headquarters.

Move over, McDonald's and Taco Bell. Student rights are the new online hot commodity.


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