Friday, April 30


Prosser student's art prompts overreaction

Prosser administrators are getting schooled on the First Amendment after disciplining a 15-year-old art student for his anti-war drawings.

Hundreds of calls and e-mails from free speech advocates have reportedly flooded school and city offices after the Herald's article on the controversy was picked up by news wires and retold nationwide.

As much as Prosser officials want to define the incident as a school safety issue, their handling of the case serves only to reinforce that the boy's drawings were political expressions, the sort of commentary the First Amendment protects.

The most controversial drawing showed what appeared to be a Middle-Eastern man holding President Bush's oversized head on a stick, along with a caption calling for an end to the war in Iraq, according to a family friend of the student.

That's a violent image, and the school had a responsibility to determine that it didn't signal anything more serious than a frustration with the president's policies. No one should ever mistake high school for a democracy. Legal forms of expression -- wearing gang attire for example -- are routinely banned in schools because of safety or other concerns.

But Prosser police went further than checking out whether the student was a threat to school safety. They called in the U.S. Secret Service, which investigates threats against the president.

School officials said they have taken "relatively low-level" disciplinary action against the boy, although they haven't said what.

Any discipline is troubling.

A true threat against the president deserves criminal charges, not an afternoon in study hall. Barring evidence of an actual threat, all this appears to be is a kid crudely exercising his First Amendment rights. That demands no correction.

The drawings may be disrespectful and the message upsetting, but lacking political sophistication isn't a crime. For 15-year-olds, it's more than common.