- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2004

A California superintendent has intervened in the fracas over the Conservative Club at Rancho Cotate High School, saying the principal never should have asked the club’s founder to stay home after he was threatened by other students for his political views.

“Our goal is to make sure that every student is safe and that they have the free-speech rights accorded to them under California law,” said Michael Watenpaugh, superintendent of the Cotati-Rohnert Park School District in Rohnert Park, Calif.

Mr. Watenpaugh also pledged to begin an investigation into charges that Tim Bueler, a 17-year-old junior, was twice threatened physically by students while teachers stood by and refused to help.

In the latest and separate incident, 15 police officers responded Friday to a call from the school after a group of students converged on the Conservative Club’s lunchtime meeting. The students became angry after hearing that club members were criticizing President Bush’s guest-worker proposal for illegal immigrants, Tim said.

A dispatcher with the Rohnert Park Police Department said officers dispersed the group and sent them back to class. No students were arrested or taken into custody.

The superintendent’s action came after the district and high school were inundated with phone calls and e-mails after a Dec. 30 article in The Washington Times.

Tim and several other students founded the Conservative Club in the fall to counter what they described as the faculty’s biased liberal perspective. They began a “liberal assault hot line” and encouraged students to “take a stand against the liberal traitors who call themselves teachers.”

Some teachers took offense at the club’s statements, arguing that the club was making accusations without evidence. Forty teachers signed a letter later published in a Santa Rosa newspaper denying the charges.

Tim said one teacher called club members “a bunch of bigots,” while another called him a Nazi. A teacher wrote a parody of the newsletter, calling club members “neoconservative wing nuts who call themselves Americans.”

Tim said threats from other students started last month after he wrote an article in the club newsletter calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration. In one instance, he said a group of Hispanic boys blocked him from walking down the hallway; another time a group of boys surrounded him.

In both cases, Tim said, he asked nearby teachers for help, and they refused.

The week before holiday break, Principal Mitchell Carter suggested that Tim take a few days off to let the situation cool down. Tim refused, arguing that he had done nothing wrong.

Mr. Watenpaugh held a mandatory meeting with the Rancho Cotate faculty and two lawyers Jan. 8 to review “school safety issues, student freedom of expression rights and staff expectations.”

“I believe it was very important for the whole staff to be reminded of student freedom-of-speech rights under the law,” Mr. Watenpaugh said. “I believe teachers should know they are responsible and accountable for their own speech as well.”

Since Tim returned to campus Jan. 5, a school safety officer has accompanied him.

The events appear not to have hurt the Conservative Club’s popularity. Before the break, the club was averaging about 50 students at its meetings, but 120 students turned up for last week’s gathering, Tim said.

Dennis Bueler, Tim’s father, said he was pleased with the district’s decisive action. After last month’s flare-up, he said he consulted with lawyers, but decided against filing a complaint.

“Tim was all fired up about it, but I said, ‘No, nothing good is going to come of that,’ ” he said. “We don’t want to sue any teachers. I just feel like, ‘Let’s learn from this and move on.’ ”

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