An Open Letter from Clark Magnet Students to Faculty and Administration
As students, many of us are constantly left wondering about our rights at school — especially when it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, both protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Yet, every year, arguments between students and school officials arise as to whether these rights are protected at public schools. While legally, students are allowed to express their opinions and beliefs, as long as they are not disruptive, administrators are often seen taking actions which greatly limit the students’ rights.
Nearly five decades ago, the Supreme Court of the United States brilliantly stated that students in public schools, which are run by the government, do not shed their rights at the schoolhouse gate. This statement was made in 1969, after in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision protecting the students’ right to express their opinion both orally and in writing, including leaflets, buttons, armbands, and T-Shirts.
“Students in public schools do not shed their rights at the schoolhouse gate.”
It is important to understand that this is the right of every public school student in the United States, as long as he or she does not “materially and substantially” disrupt classes and other school activities.
However, what has forced us to write an article on this issue? As young community activists, we feel that certain school officials are completely insensitive to a cause that we all care about… the Armenian Genocide. In 1915, the Ottoman Turkish government systematically exterminated more than 1.5 million Armenians, ruthlessly murdering women, children, and the elderly. As Armenian-Americans, we feel that it is our duty to honor the victims and stand strong against the Turkish propaganda.
On April 21, 2016, the Armenian Club of Clark Magnet High School organized a Silent Protest to commemorate the Genocide and show that the young generation will continue the fight for this important cause.
When made aware of the event, many Clark students decided to show their support and wore T-Shirts with slogans such as “Our Wounds are Still Open” and “1915. Never Again.”
Yet, many of them were shocked to find out that the school’s administration as well the large portion of the faculty issued Dress Code Violations because the shirts did not have a collar. Administrators also walked class-to-class in order to find students wearing these shirts, and issued a large number of lunch detentions, a common punishment for being out of dress code.
Frankly, as students, we all feel that these actions by the Clark Administration were unnecessary, even if the shirts did not have a collar. Administrators should understand that their actions hurt the feelings of many students and discourage them from freely expressing their opinions in the future. The student body as a whole felt betrayed by the people we trust and respect, as those people did not seem to respect our Constitutional rights. After all, students do not violate dress-code standards every day. An event like this takes place only once a year, and punishing students in this situation was completely unreasonable. On the other hand, the entire student body would like to thank the three teachers who respected our choice to wear these shirts and supported us by not issuing dress-code violations!
However, dress code issues were only one of the problems that the student body encountered. Today, according to more than fifty Clarkies, one of the faculty members called the students’ patriotic actions a “disgrace to America” and stated that she considers them to be “disrespectful to other Americans.” Out of respect, we are not going to release the teacher’s name, but we truly hope that this article reaches her. If you are reading this article, we would like to let you know that it is extremely unethical to make statements as such. You are a teacher at an amazing school… a school where more than 50% of the student body is of Armenian descent. We feel extremely offended, and truly hope that you will understand our concerns and apologize to your students.
After all, it is the twenty-first century, and it is time to end this ignorance. It is time to finally accept and acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and stop denying the truth…
— Opinion of Many Students at Clark Magnet High School
(Written by Henri Gurgenyan)