200 Minds Held Hostage at Pennridge High

On Saturday, 200 brave, patriotic, dedicated, and focused leaders of tomorrow sat in detention at Pennridge High School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Northeast of Philadelphia, Bucks County is home to some of the highest rated school districts and communities to live in the nation and a perennial republican stronghold. The county’s politics could be one reason that Pennridge School District — the governing body that decided to punish students for participating in a national walkout last week — is notably absent from both national and state rankings. However, the district likely makes Betsy DeVos proud of their oppressive and draconian policies.

We wonder — did Pennridge High School and their elite team of educational leaders look the other way for an N.F.L. parade? Or, did they hold students to the same standards as those who chose to participate in a more important civic duty?

Over the past month, another horrific and unnecessary school shooting galvanized the nation. More Americans than ever — in excess of two-thirds in a recent poll — support gun control reform. Leading the call for reform are the concerned and scared high school students and future voters of the nation. On March 14, 2018, millions of students participated in a nationwide walkout to show solidarity with students from Stoneman Douglas High School who witnessed the latest massacre.

Among the millions, over 200 exited Pennridge High School in upper Bucks County last week — refusing to be confined to a controlled and planned school activity. On Saturday, the courageously outspoken were ordered to report to their first detention as punishment for exercising their First Amendment right to protest.

For every student sitting in study hall over the weekend, there is a ten-fold civics lesson for the ill-advised, petty, and fascist-minded administrators of Pennridge High School, District, and School Board. In this transitional time in America, those educators — from Pennsylvania and across the nation — who chose to punish instead of recognize have demonstrated the clear and present danger that continues to exist as long as personal and partisan politics dictates school policies.

It is an embarrassment to the nation, democracy, free expression, and the children who died in Florida last month that so-called educators feel empowered by placing students in detention. There is little difference between a Pennridge principal who executes the punishment and Florida State Rep. Elizabeth Porter (R-10) dismissing student protests and voices or NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch verbally attacking student efforts. Each is disgusting in their own manner, but coming from supposed educators, the insult is compounded.

The day after the massacre in Florida, Pennridge Superintendent Jaqueline A. Rattigan issued a statement to the parents and students of the district. Ms. Rattigan spent seven paragraphs rambling about security measures and law enforcement involvement, but only one sentence extending a rote message on compassion to the children and families of Parkland, Florida. Her hardline message seemed almost a precursor for the punitive measures taken against protesters on Saturday. In a sick twist of irony, Ms. Rattigan issued an announcement on Friday that read:

Our “T.A.K.E.S. P.R.I.D.E.” theme of the month is “Respect.”  This week’s quote is from Bono.  Bono said, “To be one, to be united is a great thing.  But to respect the rights to be different is maybe even greater.”  Respect all people.  It is the right thing to do.

Apparently, respect does not extend to students who chose to stand in support of a national cause. Bono would be sickened to learn that his lyrics are being used by a woman who cannot grasp the basic fundamentals of respecting democratic freedoms.

Also happening at Pennridge High School during the past month, an event of greater importance to many than the student walkout. Across Bucks County, schools experienced a dramatic decrease in daily attendance on February 8, 2018 — the day that the city of Philadelphia honored its football team with a parade. For many schools — like esteemed Council Rock North — across the county, student absences were excused and forgiven as an “educational family experience.”

So important to Bucks County culture was the drunken revelry and chance to support the racist and commercial leanings of the N.F.L. champions that students even initiated petitions to cancel school at places like Pennridge High School. Angelina DiMaggio, a Pennridge student implored the school to shut down since, “So many people are going to the parade…including teachers.” Indeed, nearly a million people from across the region showed up to the parade and many schools issued excused absences for the day — so that students could cheer Eagles players and coaches as they caught cans of beer from the crowd.

Because this is an educational family trip.

We wonder — did Pennridge High School and their elite team of educational leaders look the other way for an N.F.L. parade? Or, did they hold students to the same standards as those who chose to participate in a more important civic duty? It seems impossible that educators like Jaqueline Rattigan with such misplaced priorities could expect to impact sound values and lessons on impressionable young minds who only want to speak out against gun violence.

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