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As Committee Nears Appeal Decision, Banner Saga Reaches New York Times

The School Committee will vote on whether to appeal or not on Feb. 16.

The Cranston West prayer banner saga continues to drag on, but there could be an end to it on Feb. 16.

That's when the School Committee will finally vote to appeal or not to appeal ordering the prayer banner hanging in the auditorium removed.

About 200 people came out to a School Committee budget hearing earlier this week to comment for and against the banner. The crowd was divided nearly equally between supporters of Jessica Ahlquist, the plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the Rhode Island Chapter of the American with Civil Liberties Union, and proponents of an appeal.

But the committee did not allow public comment at the meeting and School Committee Chairwoman Andrea Iannazzi informed the crowd that they would not be able to speak on non-agenda items, prompting the vast majority in attendence to get up and leave.

School Committee Member Janice Ruggieri expressed frustration towards the departing crowd, noting that they were walking out of a budget hearing — one of the most important jobs the committee does in a calendar year.

The Feb. 16 meeting could be contentious, with supporters of the banner planning to wear T-shirts displaying a photo of the banner and Ahlquist supporters sporting shirts stating "evil little thing," a jab at Rep. Peter Polombo, who used the expression to label Ahlquist on local talk radio shortly after the court decision was announced.

Meanwhile, the city as a whole is showing signs of banner exhaustion. Although there has been continued public discussion and many vocal people on both sides of the issue, the majority interviewed in recent days said they're ready to move on.

But it has been hard with the state's daily paper chasing after the story day after day and the topic being revisited repeatedly on talk radio. The controversy, for many, has begun to resemble a circus with out-of-towners showing up at meetings proclaiming to speak on behalf of Cranston residents.

Today, for example, the Providence Journal reported that Ahlquist, a 16-year-old junior at Cranston West, is denying a report that she will be transferring to a different school. That report apparently stemmed from a report by WPRO that was based on rumors posted on Facebook by another student. Why the rumor made it into a reporter's story remains unclear. What is clear is that many Cranston residents have begun to wonder if all these details really matter and whether the state's media outlets have started to lose sight of the real issue at hand. Are these small details about Ahlquist worth reporting nearly a month after the decision was announced?

"It's time to move on," said School Committee member Stephanie Culhane. "There are so many other important issues facing the district."

But now the story has another spotlight pointing at it: The New York Times.

Ahlquist told the Times that she thinks people upset about the court decision may not realize it is in their best interest.

“It’s almost like making a child get a shot even though they don’t want to. It’s for their own good. I feel like they might see it as a very negative thing right now, but I’m defending their Constitution, too,” she said.

To review the dozens of stories we've reported on the prayer banner case dating back more than a year, click HERE.

Kimberly Manchester January 30, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Here s the voice of a current student: http://www.asktazi.com/2012/01/extra-edition-student-response-to.html
Ed January 30, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Ross, when a 16 year old tells me that she knows what I need and that she is defending my Constitution, I have a problem with that!!! She doesn't have one diploma yet, hasn't studied enough about the Constitution, and I'll bet she can't recite two lines of it without stumbling, and "God" forbid if we got to quiz her on it, that would really prove my point... Otherwise all she is saying is that all the degrees hanging on my wall are useless, she didn't need 'um... She needs to get back to school, period. If the heat is too hot for her, then change school, BUT GET BACK TO SCHOOL and learn, then good things will happen...
Robin Lionheart January 30, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Perhaps they thought their imaginary friend would not allow them to lose. Like Harold Camping warning everyone of the impending Rapture, last May. Despite his several previous predictions failing, he seemed unprepared for yet another failure. He was certain the infallible Bible said so, coded in numerology, so it must come to pass. But it did not, because there are no secret messages from his imaginary friend hidden in his book of bronze age fairytales.
Prof. Frederick Sweet February 07, 2012 at 05:38 AM
Under U.S. Federal Law, if a plaintiff is successful in a court decision supporting a violation of her First Amendment rights, the defendant (Cranston High School West and its school board) are obliged to pay her legal expenses. That's the law. In this case, Jessica Ahlquist is entitled to only $25 in damages. Incidentally, if I were Jessica's parents, I'd seek from the courts a restraining order against those lawless Cranston, RI thugs causing their threats of violence preventing their daughter from attending school. Then it would be up to the Cranston Police and FBI to enforce the restraining order. The ACLU gave Cranston High School West and its school board eight months to comply with the law BEFORE taking them to court. If they had complied, it would have cost Cranston RI nothing. Clearly, it is not Jessica Ahlquist's fault that now because of the school board 's arrogance and poor judgement, they are required to further impoverish Cranston High School West by losing $173,000. Cranston's public school board has very poor judgement. At the next election, it must be replaced by competent officials ... otherwise Cranston's school system will continue losing money in these economically hard times.
Robin Lionheart February 11, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I agree. Mark’s done a great job following this important issue. But when Mark suggested “banner exhaustion” was caused by the daily paper and talk radio, it seemed disingenuous to me to omit this paper’s weekly coverage. That’s all I was saying.

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