Saturday, November 29, 2003

Hitler Youth

From the Petoskey News-Review:

Eleven-year-old Bernadette Johnston was watching the History Channel with her family when a World War II documentary came on. While the topic won’t be in her curriculum until the seventh-grade, Bernadette’s parents took the opportunity to teach their sixth-grade daughter about the events she was watching on TV.

“I was learning about Adolf Hitler, and I was interested to see what he was all about,” Bernadette said. “I know he was a monster and everything, but I was learning about why people think he’s a monster.” Later that month, Bernadette and her mom were brainstorming Halloween costumes. “I know that Halloween is an evil holiday,” Bernadette said. “Hitler was evil. He was the most evil. So I decided to go as him.”

Bernadette Johnston as Der Fuhrer

Needless to say, this caused some concern at school.

With a costume in mind, Bernadette went to see her school counselor at Harbor Springs Middle School.

“She got a kick out of it,” said Bernadette, of telling the counselor about her costume idea.

The counselor mentioned the costume to the school principal, Steve Urbanski, who became concerned.

“I think he was a little surprised, I guess,” Bernadette said. “I was called into the office a couple of times.”

Ultimately, Urbanski asked Bernadette to leave the costume at home on Halloween.

“We were looking at her rights, and even asked legal counsel,” Urbanski said. “At the same time, we were looking at the rights of other people at school.”

He was uneasy, he said, about how she might be received dressed as Hitler.

“We were concerned for how other kids would treat her,” he said.

The costume didn’t go against the school’s dress code, but did sit between what’s considered acceptable and offensive.

“We decided it would be potentially disruptive to our learning environment,” Urbanski said. “And it could be offensive to students of different faiths – especially since it has not been part of the kids’ curriculum.

“We took all of those factors, thought about the rights of all those students, and the rights of Bernadette, and weighed in on a difficult situation.”

With so much controversy over the costume, Urbanski said he learned a lesson or two on celebrating Halloween at school.

“It was the first year the middle school participated in a dress-up activity,” he said. “That’s going to be a tough call next year.”

Yeah, especially if someone shows up as John Ashcroft.