Monday, December 29, 2003

Tim Bueler recently received some unusual advice: His principal and a campus police officer suggested that he stay home from his California high school for a few days.

They feared for his safety because Tim, the founder of Rancho Cotate High School’s new Conservative Club, said he had received threats from other students after writing an article for the club newsletter calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration.

The 17-year-old junior says that stance inspired threats from which teachers have refused to protect him. Some faculty members even started a public campaign against his group, which seeks to promote “the pillars of the Bible, patriotism and conservative beliefs as balance to the mostly liberal viewpoints of teachers,” according to its newsletter, “The Conservative Agenda.”

In a telephone interview, Tim said he’s been threatened at least three times by Hispanic students who call him “white boy” and “racist.” One boy said he was going to “find someone” to beat up Tim.

In two of those instances, Tim said two faculty members stood by and did nothing to help him. Most recently, Tim said, he was confronted by a dozen Hispanic boys, who blocked him from walking down the hallway.

“They said, ‘You’re a racist,’ and I said, ‘Are you guys going to let me through?’” Tim said. “So I ducked into a classroom and told the teacher what was happening, and said, ‘Can you help me?’ And she said, ‘No. Get out of here.’”

Earlier, he said he was eating lunch in a classroom when about seven Hispanic students surrounded him. Worried for Tim’s safety, his father, Dennis Bueler, said he asked for help from a teacher who was also in the room.

“The teacher told him, ‘When you say things like that, you’ve got to expect that things like this are going to happen. Why don’t you go out the back door?’” Mr. Bueler said in recounting the incident.

Tim said teachers have also joined in the name-calling. One called Tim a Nazi, while another described the club as “a bunch of bigots.” In a parody of the newsletter, biology teacher Mark Alton called on students to “take a stand against the neoconservative wing-nuts who call themselves Americans.”

Tim thought about leaving the school, located in Rohnert Park about an hour north of San Francisco, and then made his decision: No way.

“They said, ‘It’s in your best interest not to go to school,’” Tim said. “I said, ‘Well, why? What have I done wrong?’”

The club has invited students to call its “liberal assault hot line” to report whether they’ve been “verbally assaulted for being conservative.”

With about 50 members, the club has hosted speakers from the Eagle Forum and National Rifle Association.

Forty school staff members signed a letter to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat calling on the Conservative Club to back up its accusations that students are being indoctrinated.

“They’ve made all these sweeping statements about liberal teachers warping the curriculum, but as a science teacher, I’d like to see some evidence,” said Mr. Alton, who co-authored the letter.

Mr. Alton said he was also disturbed by Tim’s article on illegal immigration, which says, “Liberals welcome every Muhammad, Jamul and Jose who wishes to leave his Third World state and come to America.”

“No one at the high school opposes the formation of the Conservative Club,” Mr. Alton said. “What bothers me is the extreme views that border on racism or homophobia, the negative tone, and the hot line that calls teachers ‘traitors.’”

Tim admitted that his zeal sometimes gets the best of him. He apologized for the “Muhammad” remark, saying, “I made a mistake, but I’m not racist.” Club adviser Bernadette Tucker stepped down after Tim printed the newsletter without allowing her to edit it first.

Rancho Cotate Principal Mitchell Carter and district officials did not return several phone calls.

Mr. Bueler said he’s ready to bring in lawyers if the school cannot protect his son. “The police don’t think they were real threats, but I disagree. He shouldn’t have to be threatened every day,” the father said.

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