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School District Kicks Hornets Nest, Cancels Highland Park High Trip To Arizona

By Marcus Gilmer in News on May 12, 2010 4:00PM

2010_05_12_HPHS.JPG The Highland Park High girls varsity basketball team won't be making their way to Arizona for a tournament as originally planned in a move that's thrust the school into the middle of the debate over that state's new controversial immigration law. While school officials are citing safety concerns as one reason to cancel the trip, team members and their parents say that it's a political play, one that has no place in high school athletics. The team is coming off a championship season and had been raising funds for the trip. But District 113 Assistant Superintendent Suzan Hebson gave the Tribune some fishy statements.

Hebson said Arizona is off-limits because of uncertainty about how the new law will be enforced. Signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last month, it makes it a crime to be in the country illegally and requires police to check suspects for immigration paperwork. Hebson said the turmoil is no place for students of Highland Park High School, which also draws from Highwood.

"We would want to ensure that all of our students had the opportunity to be included and be safe and be able to enjoy the experience," Hebson said of the tournament, which will be played in December. "We wouldn't necessarily be able to guarantee that."

Asked if there are undocumented players on the team, or if anyone associated with the team is in the country illegally, Hebson said she did not know.

District 113 Superintendent George Fornero indicated there was some support for the cancellation when he told the Tribune it "wasn't just my decision." Hebson didn't help matters, though, when she furthered the political aspect of the decision, saying the trip "would not be aligned with our beliefs and values." And while Chuck D may approve, the team itself - and its parents - do not, arguing that regardless of how one feels about the new law, it's not the school's place to make such decisions based on politics. One player told the Tribune, "I don't think it makes much sense. We shouldn't be a threat. We just want to play basketball," and a player's parent, who says she opposes the new law, added, "Many of the parents feel that this should be resolved in the judicial court, not the basketball court."

The school - which is a public school - calls itself "diverse" with a "student population of 80% white, 15% Hispanic, 3% Asian and 2% African American." Whether you applaud or chide the school for making a political statement, it's hard to look past the fact that the students/team affected weren't even involved in the decision or that the school district has chosen to hide the political statement behind concerns for "safety" without being willing to acknowledge whether or not the school has any good reason to be concerned. While athletic teams making a political statement can be a powerful tool, the school district has undermined any effectiveness such a protest might have had and has instead caused only more divisiveness. If the school's purpose is to teach students, the district is going about it the wrong way; forcing a boycott as a political statement upon students who might disagree with the stance - especially without giving them a choice in the matter - will only create a resentfulness that, ultimately, does more harm than good.