Malibu High Assignment to Write Pro-Lighting Letters to CCC Raises Political Campaigning and Free Speech Concerns
The Malibu High School field lighting proposal, which is scheduled to be heard by the California Coastal Commission on Oct. 5., continues to generate controversy.
Several Malibu High School parents are raising concerns about a campus letter writing campaign, after their children received homework assignments that appeared to require students to write a letter in support of the MHS athletic field lighting proposal even if they oppose the project.
A freshman seminar homework assignment obtained by the Malibu Surfside News states:
"We believe there is strong support for limited use of field lighting in our community. One only needed to have attended a past game to understand what a positive and unifying experience night games have been. Now is the time to make sure your words are read and your voices are heard."
The assignment seems to imply that even those opposed to the plan must write in support of it:
"Please write a letter to the CCC to ensure your support, even if you are against the lights, is recorded." [sic]
The assignment is described as "mandatory."
An email received by The News states that several classes received similar assignments. Parents say they are concerned that their children are being used "as tools" in what one parent describes as "a highly controversial and divisive propaganda campaign."
Questions asked by concerned parents include: "Does the district have a policy on classroom political pressure?" "Is this a First Amendment issue? And, ""Will these mandatory homework assignments be submitted to the CCC along with the 'voluntary' letters?"
Those who spoke to The News asked that their names be withheld. "You have no idea how contentious this issue is," one family told The News.
"Thanks for letting me know. I have referred this to the Superintendent," SMMUSD Board of Education president Jose Escarece told The News, in response to an inquiry.
"The assignment was to write a business letter," MHS Principal Mark Kelly clarified. "It asks the students to follow a specific format. It does not direct students to take a specific position in favor of lights. The students are given the option to write in favor or against the lighting proposal. The teacher saw the lighting issue as one directly relevant to students and thus appropriate for students to learn how their voice can be heard. Learning how to write a business letter is one of our learning goals. The fact that this issue is relevant to students only enhances motivation. It is reasonable that our students, who are affected by decisions regarding lights, be afforded the opportunity to lend their voice to the discussion. I do think it is appropriate that students be informed as to how they may be heard."
Requests for letters have been circulating on campus and on the MHS discussion list for several weeks. One letter request states: "MHS encourages students, parents and other interested parties to write letters to the CCC regarding the proposed amendments. We encourage the Malibu High community to share its feelings regarding the lights proposal including sharing items discussed at the City Council hearings. These items included how important the lights are to the school and community, reasons for lights, why lights are important for events such as homecoming, access to the field for all sports at night, how use of the lights in the past did or not did not impact the environment (dark skies, birds, wildlife), and how lights impact students' schedules in the way of early outs for sports. It is important for students, parents and other interested parties to get involved by either attending the CCC meeting on October 5, 2011 or by writing a letter. The CCC wants to hear from you now."
The request states that letters can be mailed, faxed or dropped off at the MHS main office by Oct. 1.
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
This is a copy of a mandatory letter-writing assignment:
Click Here or image below for a pdf version.