- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

Members of the Maine National Guard, called up to prepare for an attack on Iraq, have asserted that their children are being harassed at school by teachers who oppose the war.
Guard members say their children are "coming home upset, depressed, crying," said Maj. Peter Rogers, a spokesman for the Maine National Guard. "This was based on some incidents that were happening in school, both in the classroom and on the playground."
In an e-mail sent to the parents of one child who had complained of harassment at school, National Guard officials said they had "over 30 complaints that name schools and individual principals, teachers and guidance counselors."
It was still not clear yesterday whether the state will discipline any of the named teachers or schools over the incidents.
"In Maine, local superintendents make local policy for local schools," said Tammy Morrill, assistant to J. Duke Albanese, state commissioner of education.
A "fact-gathering" process about the incidents is under way, Maj. Rogers said. The incidents involved students in elementary and middle schools, some as young as 7 years old, he said.
"What we're hearing is that some of the educators are talking about the possible war in Iraq being unethical and that those who would fight it are unethical," Maj. Rogers said.
The state commissioner of education has urged school officials to be more "sensitive" to military children.
"Recently it has been brought to our attention that some school personnel … may have been less than sensitive to children of military families regarding our continued strained relations with Iraq," Mr. Albanese wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to all superintendents and principals in Maine.
"In some cases, parents who are about to be deployed have observed added stress and anxiety among their children who perceive a staff member or their peers as being insensitive to their beliefs and the potential danger to loved ones," Mr. Albanese wrote.
The commissioner said that, while supporting "the right to discuss controversial issues," he wanted "to remind school personnel … that the families of military personnel need our sensitivity."
Complaints about harassment in schools first surfaced, Maj. Rogers said, after two of Maine's Army National Guard units were mobilized recently for deployment to the Middle East.
"About a week ago, we started doing our family-assistance-center briefings," Maj. Rogers said, explaining that the centers provide support for the families of Guard troops on active duty. "In these briefings, a number of families came forward and talked about their children coming home upset, depressed, crying."
Maj. Rogers said the state commissioner's office "has been very supportive" of the military families in responding to the complaints. "We're hoping [Mr. Albanese's letter to school officials] will end the issue," Maj. Rogers said. "We're not looking at pointing fingers or anything."
Mr. Albanese told the Bangor Daily News that only one complaint involved classroom remarks, after the child of a Guard member became upset during a discussion of Iraq when a teaching assistant "took up the anti-war" argument.
Other incidents, according to Mr. Albanese, involved a child who had requested to leave school early for a military-related activity and a student who was teased on a school bus because he has a parent in the military.
Teachers across the country have tried to find proper ways to teach children about the war on terrorism. Last year, the National Education Association was criticized for posting a link to an online lesson plan for the September 11 anniversary recommending that teachers discuss "historical instances of American intolerance" so that America could avoid "repeating terrible mistakes."
The incidents involving the children of National Guard members in Maine were "a surprise to us," Maj. Rogers said. "We are certainly hoping that none of it was done maliciously. … We certainly value the freedom of speech and fight for it, but we hope that people would be sensitive to the kids."


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