Secret Service Questions Students

OAKLAND (KRON) — Some teachers in Oakland are rallying behind two students who were interrogated by the Secret Service. That followed remarks the teenagers made about the President during a class discussion. The incident has many people angry.

For years the classroom has been the setting for the free expression of ideas, but two weeks ago certain ideas led to two students being taken out of class and grilled by the United States Secret Service.

It happened at Oakland High. The discussion was about the war in Iraq. That’s when two students made comments about the President of the United States. While the exact wording is up for debate, the teacher didn’t consider it mere criticism, but a direct threat and she called the Secret Service.

Teacher Cassie Lopez says, “They were so shaken up and afraid.”

Now, other teachers are coming to the aid of the two students and crying foul.

“I would start with the teacher, she made a poor judgement,” Lopez says.

Teacher Larry Felson says, “What we’re concerned about is academic freedom and that students have the right to free expression in the classroom.”

Even worse, they say, is the fact that the students were grilled by federal agents without legal counsel or their parents present, just the principal.

“When one of the students asked, ‘do we have to talk now? Can we be silent? Can we get legal council?’ they were told, ‘we own you, you don’t have any legal rights,'” Felson says.

“We don’t want federal agents or police coming in our schools and interrogating our children at the whim of someone who has a hunch something might be wrong,” Lopez says.

The union representing Oakland teachers requires that students be afforded legal counsel and parental guidance before they’re interrogated by authorities. It’s too late for the two involved in this incident, and teachers say it’s something they’ll carry with them for years.

“I tell you the looks on those children’s faces. I don’t know if they’ll say anything about anything ever again. Is that what we want? I don’t think we want that,” says Lopez.

(Copyright 2003, KRON 4. All rights reserved.)