Will Vero Beach High government students attend candidate forum?

VERO BEACH — Government students at Vero Beach High School will get a first-hand look at the political process in action tonight – if their parents and their schedules allow them to attend.

Government teacher Martin O’Neal has encouraged his 150 government students to attend the Vero Beach City Council candidate forum, hosted by the Indian River County Tea Party, at the school’s Performing Arts Center from 6 to 8 p.m.

He hoped the promise of extra credit would help entice more than 100 of his students to attend. O’Neal also planned to work the forum into classroom discussion Thursday, but that might not happen now. Concerns raised by four parents at the high school have resulted in Principal Eric Seymour asking the school’s government teacher O’Neal to provide alternative extra credit and learning opportunities for all his students – including the ones who won’t be attending the forum.

Seymour and O’Neal discussed concerns four parents raised about the students’ participation in the forum Tuesday afternoon.

According to Seymour, the parents are concerned that their students would not be able to participate due to after school activities such as band practice or jobs. He told VeroNews.com that their concerns are “legitimate.”

When pressed about the parents concerns, given that attendance at the forum would be for extra credit – not a graded assignment – Seymour said, “I just don’t question the parents” and that he wants to give the parents the respect they deserve.

O’Neal told VeroNews.com Tuesday evening that one letter was shared with him verbally at the principal’s office. That letter gave the impression that this was retaliation for the school district not allowing President Barack Obama’s speech to students be aired live, O’Neal said.

When asked, Principal Seymour declined to provide copies of the handwritten letters sent to his office, saying that providing the letters would be an invasion of the parents’ privacy.

A public records request message was left with Patty Vasquez, the district’s spokeswoman.

Seymour said that he wants O’Neal to broaden the lesson plan to include all his students, including the ones who – for various reasons – would not be able to attend the forum.

“As administrator, principal and caretaker” of the students, Seymour said, he has to take care to protect the students and “not include them in a political forum.”

He added that he does not want the students to get “caught up in a media frenzy.”

Seymour also said that he does “encourage all kids to be involved.”

For Seymour, he would rather have a representative knowledgeable in the political process speak to O’Neal’s students in a classroom setting. He said that he would be able to recognize the individual and know in advance what would be said during the class visit.

Seymour said that he is not sure what would be said or who would be at the candidate forum, adding that he would be more comfortable if it were “regulated.”

“It’s a little safer,” Seymour said.

The principal did say that O’Neal’s students could attend the forum if they want to.

“They have that opportunity,” he said, adding that they could still receive extra credit for attending – so long as the students who do not attend are offered another extra credit opportunity.

O’Neal told VeroNews.com after his meeting with Principal Seymour Tuesday evening that he believed his students would not be allowed to receive extra credit – and that would decrease the number of students he expected to attend.

O’Neal said that he knows of at least three of his 150 students who are 18 and have their voter registration card and that they were excited about attending the forum tonight because they would actually know the issues and the candidates prior to casting their first ballot.

“Is that awesome or am I missing something?” asked O’Neal, a former principal himself.

He explained that students who get involved early in the political process become more knowledgeable and powerful come election time.

“I want them to become armed and dangerous” to politicians, O’Neal said, adding, “They have a voter card and are not afraid to use it.”

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