Saturday, May 8, 2004

Students at a Maryland high school known for its environmental activism have encountered several setbacks in starting up a young Republicans’ club at the school.

Five students at Sparrows Point High School in northern Baltimore County say school administrators and teachers have intentionally delayed their efforts to form a Teenage Republican Club because they don’t want to have a conservative club at a liberal school.

“It’s frustrating because nobody will help us,” said club President Donald Caldwell, a senior at the public school of about 830 students. “We’re about 90 percent liberal here.”

Principal Robert SantaCroce initially refused to allow the students to form the club. When he changed his mind, the club’s faculty adviser withdrew his support.

“We’ve been looking for a sponsor for a month straight, because we can’t meet until we get one, but we’ve had no luck,” the Caldwell youth said.

Donald said the principal changed his mind about the club after his father, Timothy Caldwell, contacted state Republican officials. The Republicans complained to the local superintendent and other school officials.

“I believe the principal changed his mind because his decision was illegal,” Timothy Caldwell said. The club had its first meeting in March but could not meet last month.

Mr. SantaCroce said Monday he misunderstood the students’ request.

“A teacher approached me on their behalf during a class change, and I thought he was representing parents rather than students,” Mr. SantaCroce said. “I said it was out of the question to even discuss it.”

The principal, who declined to express support for the club’s activities, said he doesn’t know how the faculty adviser miscommunicated his decision to the students. But the students said officials at the school, which hosts a variety of environmental clubs, don’t want the club to exist.

“Why would our parents want to form a Teenage Republican Club?” Donald Caldwell asked. “The point of the club is to get younger kids involved so they don’t have to follow in their parents’ footsteps and be liberals. We want to support [Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.] and give [President] Bush some support.”

Daniel F. Zubairi, director of the Maryland Teenage Republicans, said he wrote Mr. SantaCroce and other school officials April 21, arguing that suppressing the club would violate the students’ First Amendment rights.

“I don’t think the principal realized anyone would step up to help these kids out,” Mr. Zubairi said. “I think he assumed he could blow them off.”

Mr. Zubairi said other students in his organization have not reported any trouble forming similar clubs. His organization has 30 to 40 clubs across the state. “It’s just this one school,” he said. “Nobody there seems willing to help them.”

Mr. SantaCroce said the Teenage Republican Club is welcome to meet at the school, but he said he is waiting for the group to find a new adviser and to submit a proposed meeting schedule.

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