The prayer banner (see photo) that has graced Cranston West High School for nearly five decades still hangs on a wall of the school. Although the banner is now covered, the Cranston School Committee put off making a decision about what to do with it at a meeting following a court order to remove it. A rally that had been planned to show support for the banner never got off the ground, but local residents crowded a school committee meeting to express their points of view on the matter.
Police officers attended the meeting as a precaution as angry residents who disagree with the court’s ruling voiced their disappointment. Many residents also expressed their anger towards Jessica Ahlquist, the student who sued the school to have the banner taken down. Ahlquist herself spoke at the meeting in between Tweeted communications with fellow students who were also upset by the decision.
Ahlquist, who is an atheist, has been the target of online threats. Cranston West’s superintendent, Peter Nero, said in an interview that a police officer accompanied Ahlquist throughout the day as students returned to school on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2012, which was the first regular school day after the ruling. However, he said, Ahlquist has not been the target of any threats or violence inside the school.
In a video posted online, Ahlquist said she never expected what she saw as a simple request to have the banner removed to turn into such a firestorm.
“I’d just say, ‘Guys, it’s a prayer in a public school. Obviously, that doesn’t belong.’ And the grownups would be like, ‘Yeah, obviously, it’s separation of church and state. That makes sense.’ And it would just come right down,” Ahlquist told viewers.
The school committee is planning another meeting on Jan. 24. Residents will be welcome to express their opinions. However, the decision about whether to remove the banner or to appeal the court ruling will be made by the school committee in a private meeting.
If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, or school employment law, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.