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Peace group says Smith Voke policy would ban alternative views of military recruiting

Work horses graze near the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School dairy barn in 2011.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Work horses graze near the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School dairy barn in 2011. Purchase photo reprints »

The proposed policy would ban distribution by outside groups of “literature on controversial issues,” according to a copy obtained by the American Friends Service Committee. It would also grant campus visiting rights only to organizations that offer educational, job or scholarship opportunities to Smith Vocational students.

Jeff Napolitano, director of the Northampton-based western Massachusetts chapter of the AFSC, said those provisions would mean an end to his group’s long-standing practice of offering Smith Vocational students information on alternatives to enlisting in the military.

“We’ve been tabling there for at least the past decade, passing out fliers at lunchtime,” he said. “It’s always been uneventful.”

Further, by limiting campus visits to those groups offering jobs or scholarship funds, the policy means “military recruiters would be allowed at Smith Vocational, but not the AFSC,” Napolitano said. “They’ll be able to openly recruit but we won’t be able to provide alternatives.”

Smith Vocational Principal John Kelly said he believes the policy as written does not exclude the AFSC from tabling or making presentations to classes.

“Their mission is certainly educational and I believe they would fall under the policy,” he said.

Nevertheless, over the weekend, Napolitano’s organization sent out a press release and launched a Facebook page urging local residents to voice their opposition to the policy at Tuesday’s trustees meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. in the school’s Building A. The full text of the draft policy is available on the afscwm.org.

On Friday, William Newman, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts western regional office, also sent a letter to the school’s trustees, citing “deep concerns” that the draft policy titled “Teaching About Controversial Issues/Controversial Speakers” violates constitutional protections against “viewpoint-based discrimination.”

“My understanding is that the purpose of this prohibition is to prevent the Western Massachusetts American Friends Service Committee” from coming to the vocational school campus, Newman wrote. “It is my understanding that the present administration disapproves of the message of the AFSC, and so has drafted this policy for the purpose of excluding that group.”

Jeffrey Peterson, superintendent of Smith Vocational, did not respond Monday to repeated phone calls and an email from the Gazette requesting comment on the proposed policy.

Members of the school’s board of trustees deny that the proposal is aimed specifically at the Friends Services Committee.

“We have requests from groups of all shapes and sizes to come here and we can’t let them all in,” said John Cotton, chairman of the vocational school’s board. “Our point is education, not politics.”

He said the draft policy is being reviewed by the school’s legal counsel and is not even on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

“We want to be sure it’s doable,” Cotton said.

Incident in spring

Napolitano said the dispute with the vocational school dates back to last spring, when members of his organization were told after a lunchtime tabling event that Peterson no longer wanted them at Smith Vocational.

He said that although the AFSC was told the superintendent had banned all outside groups from campus until a new policy could be written, a review of the school’s visiting logs showed military recruiters had visited Smith Vocational after the peace group was asked to leave.

Napolitano said Peterson has not responded to phone calls, letters or Napolitano’s appearance at a trustees meeting over the summer when he voiced concerns about the proposed policy on controversial issues.

Those concerns involve more than the treatment of his own organization, Napolitano said. “The policy never defines what a controversial topic is,” he said. “That goes way beyond the AFSC.”

Newman agrees. “I’m very concerned about the bigger policy issue,” he said. “You can’t just have students and teachers guessing about what’s controversial.”


American Friends Service Committee delays protest at Smith Vocational after trustees cancel meeting

Monday, January 6, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — The American Friends Service Committee has delayed a protest over a policy change at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School after the school’s trustees canceled a meeting Tuesday due to an administrative error. The peace group had asked supporters to attend Tuesday’s scheduled meeting of the trustees to oppose the draft policy, which would ban literature drops by …

Legacy Comments10

Perhaps it's not what you intend, but if you do wish to engage in an intelligent discussion, I would encourage you to avoid using big words that you don't understand. Paid or unpaid, doing what you believe in does not constitute hypocrisy. Check the dictionary if you don't believe me.

How do we know what he believes? His behavior would be identical because he is paid to protest, regardless of his feelings. That my friend is hypocrisy :-)

I rest my case.

By the way, jdurf1, the "paid activists" (actually, most of them are volunteers) from the AFSC are operating on a much smaller budget the the paid activists at sent by the military recruiting office...

A paid activist is a paid activist. Seems pretty hypocritical to me.

I think that what is controversial is that providing young people with clear information about the risks and implications of joining the military as well as the benefits might reduce the number of kids lured into the field. Schools, which have a sacred responsibility to nurture and care for our kids when they are not at home, have a moral obligation (and a legal one) to allow all sides of an issue to be presented, and to teach students the skills for making informed and decisions without bias or coercion. This obligation sometimes runs counter to marketing strategies...

You are very wrong on so many levels. First off, I attended SVHS and enlisted in the service. I received an excellent education with multitudes of options, and chose the best career path for me with no coercive acts from recruiters and I definitely was not "lured" into serving my country. Moreover, had the AFSC tried to influence me with their personal beliefs and views I would have been insulted. Your views reflect the stereotypical mindset that education at SVHS is limited. I am telling you that educators and staff at SVHS not only nurture and care for their students, but proactively educate students, side by side. Whether a student choses to enlist in the service, go on to higher education, or directly into the workforce, SVHS provides a well-rounded and excellent mentored education to make their own decision.

I'd be happy to donate to an AFSC scholarship or internship fund. Otherwise, it seems like war, military spending and foreign policy are controversial topics--so I don't see how military recruiters would be allowed in under the proposed policy either.

Isn't The American Friends Service Committee a religious group? It says right on the intern application (that is linked to in this article), that one of the requirements is, "Commitment to Quaker values and testimonies. Understanding of and compatibility with the principles and philosophy of the Friends and the AFSC, including non-violence and the belief in the intrinsic worth of every individual". It's not that it sounds like this is a bad group by any means, but are they passing out religious materials in the school? Perhaps that is what the controversial part of their actions are.

Jeff if you want, I'll offer you an alternative view of my hienie. (Mr Paid Activist)

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