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Suspensions at Northwestern High in Md. create an uproar
By Ovetta Wiggins
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."
Batenga said the students received a five-day suspension because they incited a disruption.
The students spent months planning the walkout, and they had more than 400 members of the 2,274-member student body prepared to participate.
According to the plan, the demonstrators were to meet outside at 2:40 p.m., at the end of third period. No one showed up, however, because Batenga, a first-year principal, had squashed the plans that day. He became aware of the planned demonstration the night before and made an early morning announcement instructing students not to participate.