Four students at Grand Rapids Christian High School were suspended for two days after holding signs supporting President Donald Trump's immigration policies.
The students who were disciplined made signs that read "Trump" and "Build the Wall". Video the 13 Watchdog team obtained shows the teenagers attempting to pose for pictures in front of a banner “Immigrants are a Blessing Not a Burden." The video shows a teacher rushing over to stop them after each pulled a piece of paper out of their pockets intending to be signs.
Grand Rapids Christian School Superintendent Thomas DeJonge wrote a note to parents this week indicating the incident happened Friday, March 3, as other students were nearby.
DeJonge said the high school's social justice group "Love Thy Neighbor" was gathering stories about the positive impact immigrants have had on the lives of fellow students when the students wanted to show the the pro-Trump signs.
After the teacher left the area, we are told an argument ensued between students on both sides of the issue but the incident did not become physical, DeJonge told the 13 Watchdog team.
DeJonge says he decided to suspend the four sign-holding students because they were disrespecting their fellow students. In a statement to the 13 Watchdog team late Thursday, DeJonge said they were suspended because they "became verbally aggressive and made insensitive comments toward other students."
"To be clear, the students were not disciplined because of having expressed their political viewpoint," DeJonge wrote. "Rather, they were disciplined because of the disruption they caused and disrespect they demonstrated toward fellow students and staff."
DeJonge told us over the phone he felt the students interrupting the gathering were disrespectful to other students and felt the four were disrespectful to faculty and staff members.
The 13 Watchdog team asked DeJonge if students are often suspended for being disrespectful in the classroom and we were told a suspension isn't automatic and is handled on a case-by-case basis.
"The boys did not create havoc by doing what they did," DeJonge said. "It was what was following where there became a disruption and aggression and disrespect to students and to staff and faculty."
Three parents and a grandparent of the students involved told the 13 Watchdog team they disagree with DeJonge's decision.
One parent told us off-camera the students, "were simply trying to support the President of the United States."
Another parent told us the students did not want to incite violence and only wanted to make a political statement about illegal immigration because the students felt they hadn't been afforded an opportunity to say how they felt. The parent questioned why the school would allow students to put up a pro-immigration theme when the country seems to be divided on the topic.
"Why are they bringing this political nonsense into the school?" the parent asked.
DeJonge told parents he thought this negative situation could be turned into a positive one.
"Many meaningful conversations between students with opposing opinions have already occurred and our student body, as you would expect, has responded in ways parents can be proud," DeJonge said.
DeJonge wouldn't answer questions on-camera but did provide us a statement released to us late Thursday:
"The Grand Rapids Christian High School student body is a community that reflects the diversity of opinions that are present locally and throughout our nation. Regrettably, during a student-led activity on Friday, March 3, that diversity of opinion turned to actions that were disruptive to the school environment. As a result, four students were disciplined for their actions.
Since then, those same students have apologized for their behavior and requested meetings with fellow students to reestablish the respectful culture that exists on our campus. Additionally, students have asked to establish a more formal, ongoing dialogue to help everyone in our school community understand and embrace diverse viewpoints. We are extremely proud of how our students are learning from this experience.
Ensuring strong student relationships and establishing a community where a broadly diverse student body can respectfully express opposing points of view is a core value which we will continue to embrace. To that end and consistent with our mission, we are exploring ways that we can use this incident as a broader educational opportunity for our entire school community."
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