A group of nine people gathered outside Grand Rapids Christian High School Friday to protest a decision made by school administrators to suspend four students who attempted to hold up signs supporting President Donald Trump's immigration policies.
The 13 Watchdog team broke the news Thursday four local private school students were suspended for two days for their actions related to the paper signs.that said "Build The Wall" and "Trump" in response to a banner that was displayed in school titled “Immigrants are a Blessing Not a Burden”. One of the students is 18 years of age and the other three are 17.
Two of the students involved sat down with the 13 Watchdog team to explain why the situation happened last Friday March 3. The students told us they didn't plan out the situation and didn't want to cause any harm. They say they only wanted to make a statement to support President Trump's mission to curb illegal immigration.
"We're not trying to offend anybody or any immigrants," one of the suspended students said.
The students who commented to us wanted to make clear to us that they were disappointed to hear the school's top administrator indicate they were disciplined for being "verbally abusive".
"We were not verbally abusive," one of the students said off-camera. "We didn't say anything."
The suspended students tell us they were verbally abused after showing the pro-Trump signs by "50+ students" who were angry with them for holding their signs in front of the banner.
Video the 13 Watchdog team obtained shows the four students attempting to hold the pieces of paper up but were stopped by a teacher. The video we reviewed did not show verbal altercations but we were told the arguments happened after the teachers left the area.
The students who were disciplined said they watched out their school windows Friday afternoon as protestors arrived to support their cause.
Pro-Trump supporter Audra Lemons walked up and down the street in front of Grand Rapids Christian High School Friday and said she was concerned the suspensions were politically motivated.
"I believe we all as American citizens enjoy our freedom of speech and to watch the video you guys presented caused a lot of problems for me," Lemons said.
The protestors chanted "Freedom of Speech. We support the students."
They asked for Superintendent Thomas DeJonge to answer all questions related to the situation.
"We want those kids to know they're not alone and that they deserve some support for being brave and being able to stand up," Lemons said.
Superintendent DeJonge wrote in a statement to the 13 Watchdog team late Thursday: "the students were not suspended after holding signs supporting President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. They were suspended after they became verbally aggressive and made insensitive comments toward other students."
DeJonge wrote in a letter to parents after the incident: "To be clear, the students were not disciplined because of having expressed their political viewpoint. Rather, they were disciplined because of the disruption they caused and disrespect they demonstrated toward fellow students and staff."
We asked Superintendent DeJonge to provide us any evidence the students were "verbally abusive" but he declined to comment further.
We also asked DeJonge why other students who, perhaps, were verbally abusive to the pro-Trump students, weren't disciplined as well. DeJonge said it was "difficult to discern who was involved". Ultimately, in final evaluation, the school's leader said he believed the suspended students were "disruptive to the school environment".
DeJonge indicated he's trying to bring everybody together after the incident and wrote: "After the students who had been suspended returned to school on Wednesday, two student meetings were held between those students and other students involved in the event. The meetings were respectful and conciliatory in tone, and have re-established an environment of understanding for diverse viewpoints."
The students who were disciplined say they're not necessarily in agreement it's a peaceful situation right now and said they felt "threatened". They pointed out that they have no problems with immigration and said their parents were immigrants to the United States. They said they do have issues with people entering the country illegally.
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