Free speech, abortion debate simmers on at Wilson High School

Protesters on site Wednesday at Tacoma school

Tacoma News TribuneFebruary 26, 2014 

A dispute over free speech for an anti-abortion student club at Wilson High School was still simmering Wednesday, despite efforts by Tacoma Public Schools officials to turn down the heat.

The dispute erupted publicly last week, after Wilson freshman Bryce Asberg complained that the club he leads, Wilson Students for Life, had been unfairly blocked from posting some of its messages around the Wilson campus.

While Bryce, his parents and school administrators met Monday in an effort to resolve some of the issues, another group dived into the debate Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, five members of a Bremerton-based chapter of a group called the Anti-Choice Project stood outside Wilson with large posters showing photographs of aborted fetuses that prompted varied reactions from students. 

Some made fake gagging faces, while others engaged in a dialogue with the Anti-Choice group.

"The fact is, they did censor the kids by pulling down two posters about abortion," said group member Tom Herring. 

School officials had said last week that two posters were disallowed because Wilson Students for Life didn’t go through the proper school approval channels. Bryce disputed that statement last week.

Prior to the Wednesday demonstration, Bryce posted a statement on his group’s Facebook page saying the Anti-Choice Project was not affiliated with Students for Life of America, his group’s parent organization.

Bryce’s campaign over his club’s posters had the support of a Chicago law firm, the Thomas More Society.

Tacoma Public Schools officials said their meeting earlier this week with Bryce and his parents ended amicably, and that a planned follow-up meeting was no longer necessary. 

“I trust that as our respective clients have mutually agreed that there is no longer a dispute, there is no need for further action,” school district general counsel Shannon McMinimee wrote in a message to Thomas More attorneys.

In another message, she explained that due to the “substantial disruption of the educational envrionment” caused last week, the Wilson administration had initially considered not allowing any non-curriculum-related student groups to display posters on school walls. Instead, McMinimee wrote, the administration decided to change its policy. Now, posters and flyers from these groups may only contain a student group’s name, along with the dates, times and locations of meetings.

“This will be applied equally to all non-curricular student clubs,” McMinimee wrote.

But Jocelyn Floyd, an attorney with the More Society, said that is the wrong remedy.

She said she was encouraged that Wilson approved a Day of Silence to be sponsored by Wilson Students for Life March 4. And she saw positive signs that Bryce was encouraged to take any future concerns directly to Wilson’s principal. But she said the new poster policy is worrisome.

It’s message, she said, was “if you want to say something we don’t like, we will shut you down. And if you fight back, we will shut everybody down.”

In an e-mail to The News Tribune, Bryce voiced a similar opinion: “I am thankful that the Wilson administration is willing to allow Wilson Students for Life to host previously proposed events and activities. However, I am disappointed with the new flyer/poster policy which silences all clubs.”







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