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Michigan high school students suspended after painting over antigay message (16001)


Michigan high school students suspended after painting over antigay message

Hundreds of students held a sit-down demonstration outside Howell High School in Michigan on Tuesday to protest the suspensions of four classmates who painted over an antigay message scrawled on a rock on school property. The four students were suspended for defacing school property--in this case not the rock but nearby sidewalks and benches, which were spray-painted dozens of times with the word "love."

Principal Margaret Hamill told more than 350 students and a few parents and other adults that she empathized with their position but that the school was only following disciplinary procedures outlined in the code of conduct. "Although [the word 'love'] is a beautiful message...instead of using sidewalk chalk that we could wash out, they used spray-paint," Hamill said.

On Sunday the four students used spray paint to cover the words "God hates fags," which had been painted on the rock near the high school entrance. Although the rock is frequently painted by students, the four who were suspended also spray-painted "love" more than 25 times around the flagpole and more than 25 times on sidewalks on the north side of the building. "By the time we have the sandblaster and the man-hours, it'll be a few thousand dollars to take care of it," Mike Peterson, director of operations for Howell Public Schools, told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus. "Concrete is kind of an unforgiving surface."

Participants in Tuesday's four-hour sit-in said they believed the suspensions were too strict. "Writing 'love' doesn't sound malicious to me," senior Angel Alcorn told the Howell newspaper. "The punishment given to these kids is beyond harsh. It's excessive. We just want the school to pay attention to us."

Appeals of the suspensions were held Tuesday and were scheduled for Wednesday, Hamill told the protesters. "We are listening to them," she said. "We are trying to come up with a resolution, and that is going to take a little time, but you're going to have to trust me." The school also has begun an investigation into who painted the antigay message, Hamill said.

Some of the protesters said the matter went beyond the suspensions and that the antigay message on the rock reflected the controversy over sexual orientation issues that has simmered at the school all year. Over the winter some students and community members criticized the Howell High School Diversity Club's use of a rainbow-colored flag, which they said was a symbol of gay pride and inappropriate for the school. About 25 counterprotesters, some with letters spelling out the word "straight" marked on their chests, taunted the larger group Tuesday. "This is more of a year's worth of resentment," senior Katie Prout said. "This seems like it's been a really tense year. Everyone is saying, 'I'm right, you're wrong.' No one seems to mix very well and talk to each other." (AP)

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