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Parents to get heads-up on school speakers

David Mirhadi

The Nevada City School District will look into giving parents advance notice of guest speakers in classrooms after fielding complaints Tuesday about a presentation given to Seven Hills Middle School students by a returning Iraq War soldier.

On May 18, U.S. Marine Cpl. Ty Appleton, a former Seven Hills student, spoke to 180 eighth-grade students as a guest in humanities classes to talk about the life of a soldier. The students in the class were studying the Civil War at the time.

Appleton spoke of his time in Iraq last summer and of a military life spent in the blazing desert.

Appleton’s comments during the question-and-answer sessions after his talk drew fire from parents who said their students should be given a chance to hear about the war from a nonmilitary or pacifist perspective to provide balance.

Several parents criticized Appleton’s presentation, because, they said, he spoke of how he supported President George W. Bush, and that what had been done to prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison “was not as bad as what was done to Americans” during and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The uproar over Appleton’s speech prompted Seven Hills Principal Joe Limov to issue memos to the Nevada City board of trustees, teachers and parents regarding protocol for discussing Appleton’s speech to students.

In his memo to the board, Limov said that Appleton also spoke of the difficulties of combat.

“There is nothing fun about war, nothing at all,” Appleton told the students. “It was the most terrifying thing that’s ever happened to me. There is no way to know how terrible it is until you have been there.”

Parents in the audience at Tuesday night’s Nevada City Elementary School District meeting sharply criticized the district for allowing what they believed was a one-sided view of the war.

“When students are misinformed, it’s very important for teachers to provide a balance,” said Kay Allen, the parent of two Nevada City School District children, including one eighth-grader who witnessed the speech.

Parent Jan Fishler suggested issuing some form of release to parents before speakers come to class and said it might help to record the content of some of the guest speaker’s lecture.

Allen said her eighth-grader spoke of Appleton relaying the slaying of Nick Berg, the American working in Iraq whose beheading last month was broadcast worldwide. Allen said Appleton called the Iraqis “subhuman.”

“If children are presented with information, they should be able to use their critical thinking skills and know there is a different view.”

Exposing students to the realities of war is important, parent Joanna Robinson and others said.

“This is reality, this is what we live with, and I think 12- and 13-year-olds are old enough to make their own decisions about the war,” she said, while adding, “I’m stunned and shocked and hurt by what Cpl. Appleton said.”

While not responding directly, parent Kim Proctor said that “things can’t always be sugar-coated.”

Appleton’s speech was at least the second time instructors and principals within the district had invited active military personnel to speak about wartime. Earlier this year, Marine Corps Col. Sean Metroka presented a slide show to elementary school-age students at Deer Creek School. Metroka’s presentation was largely about the landscape and civilians he met while a fire plans officer in Iraq last year.

“He did not express an opinion at all,” McGarr said, noting that Metroka’s presentation differed from others he’s given to the general public at the Grass Valley Elks Lodge earlier this year.

Limov urged trustees to allow some levity in bringing guest speakers who provide a powerful message. Earlier this year, two recovering methamphetamine addicts from Nevada Union High School spoke at Seven Hills, warning students the dangers of the drug. Graphic presentations of burned-out methamphetamine labs and a presentation by a retired narcotics detective served as part of the curriculum that day.

“I would never neuter that out of our curriculum,” Limov said. “Should we not do a presentation like that? I don’t think so. Education has to have an impact.”

School board President Paula Campbell said the board would consider updates to its nearly 20-year-old policy with the help of the California School Boards Association, which recently updated a policy for school districts.

The next board meeting is scheduled for June 22.


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