Taking civics lesson off campus no job for the faint of heart

Times Staff Writer

Four Temple City High School seniors may have learned their civics lesson too well.

At least that's the opinion of some teachers and students who took the outspoken students to task for raising concerns at a recent school board meeting about possible violations of U. S. constitutional rights at the school.

"Some people said they were proud that the girls had the courage to address the board," said Angela Johnston, a Temple City High School senior who serves as student representative to the board. Johnston sits with the school board members at meetings but does not vote.

"Others said it reflects on the education they are getting--the fact that they are up on current issues and had the guts to do it," Johnston added. "But some thought the issue should have been kept within the schools."

While their 12th-grade civics class was studying the Constitution and the Supreme Court, Diane Albert, Dina Lattuga, Mindy Orr and Yvette Zakhary began noticing school events and regulations that they thought might violate the federal doctrine of separation of church and state.

Among their concerns was a Christmas concert featuring only Christian and secular music, a Bible study group that meets on campus and a dress code that permits students to wear shirts saying such things as "Jesus Loves You" but prohibits shirts promoting some rock groups.

"Either everyone should be allowed to wear shirts or nobody should be allowed to, as long as the message is not obscene," Zakhary said.

School officials maintain that none of the issues raised by the students violates the principle of separation of church and state, and that none of the events or regulations would be changed.

The students said they had committed themselves to making the presentation before the school board before they discussed their concerns with administrators at the high school.

"We were not grandstanding," Orr said. "We thought going to the board was the way to go about it."

After the presentation, school board President Lewis H. Moulton wrote them a letter saying that the board was impressed with the quality of their preparation and the courteous manner in which they addressed the members. But, he cautioned: "We ask you to work with your high school administrators and teachers in order to have your future concerns heard and explanations given to you."

Supt. Wesley Bosson agreed that the concerns should have been worked out with the administration, rather than the board.

"Even after they had worked with the administration, they wanted to exercise their right to appear at the governmental level," Bosson said.

"My concern is that the community not misconstrue the girls' presentation," Bosson said. "They are not an anti-religious group of kids. They are asking if the district is legal in permitting what goes on.

"It is legal and we will not change. We will continue doing what we do."

Orr, who describes herself as an on-and-off Congregationalist, said the girls were not trying to abolish the concert or the Bible study.

"We just want to add to it," she said. "We want to add to the Christianity in the concert with Jewish and Buddhist religious songs."

After they made their presentation to the board, student representative Johnston invited her schoolmates to attend a regional conference of the Student Advisory Board on Education, a group that brings student concerns to the state Board of Education.

"We were looking for ideas of student concerns to take to a state meeting in March," Johnston said. "The girls presented the same speech as they had at the board meeting, showing the others the way to make a presentation to a board. One of the topics we discussed at the conference was religion in the schools."

Albert said the next step would be to try to work through the student advisory panel to present their ideas to the state school board.

"If people don't like our views that is OK, but they shouldn't condemn us for sticking up for other people's rights," Albert added.

"We don't want to offend anyone, but a lot of people don't like it when you create waves."

For the Record Los Angeles Times Sunday January 10, 1988 Home Edition San Gabriel Valley Part 9 Page 2 Column 4 Zones Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction A caption in Thursday's San Gabriel Valley section incorrectly identified Angela Johnston as one of four Temple City High School students who brought their concerns over constitutional issues to the Temple City school board. Johnston is the student representative to the board.
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