For Edsel Ford High School, Wednesday, Oct. 10 is “just a regular day of school,” said Dearborn Public Schools spokesman David Mustonen. But for some parents, an anti-Muslim protestor’s planned demonstration in front of the Dearborn school that afternoon is cause for concern.
Florida Pastor Terry Jones is well known in Dearborn, having visited the city three times since April 2011 to protest what he said is the spread of Islamic law in the city. Jones’s visits have resulted in arrests, public disturbances, expenditure of city, county and state police resources, and extensive media coverage.
On Oct. 10, he’ll return once more “to protest the bullying of non-Muslim students,” according to a press release from Stand Up America Now on behalf of Jones.
Though Jones has not confirmed the exact reason for his visit, it is believed that it has to do with an altercation that took place at Edsel Ford in May between two groups of students.
According to the Arab American News, the fight was described by some as a “racial war” between African American and Arab American teens. It resulted in the suspension of seven students.
Mustonen said the district has coordinated efforts with Dearborn police and city officials to ensure that while Jones exercises his right to free speech, students can get on with their day.
“We’ve been working with the city, talking with them so that all our efforts are coordinated,” he explained. “We want to make sure that traffic moves smoothly and there are no interruptions in the school day—that’s what we’re planning on.”
He added that discussions will be held with students and parents, “just so that they’re aware.”
Dearborn resident Pat Turnbull, whose son attends Edsel Ford, said she found out about the event when the district notified her of a meeting for parents to be held Monday.
“I just find it alarming because I don’t really see the point (of his visit),” she said. “It concerns me that he’s going to be at a school.
“As a parent, I’m thinking, ‘Is it safe to send my kid to school that day?’”
Mustonen said several parents have called the district to voice concerns over Jones’s visit, but that the district feels the issue can be handled without more drastic measures—such as closing school for the day.
“Any over-attention is what Mr. Jones seeks,” Mustonen said. “I think he seeks for a disruption of normal behavior in order to credit that to his presence … but I don’t see that occurring for us in the district.”
According to the City of Dearborn, Jones did not file a special event request. As such, he cannot host his demonstration on school grounds. However, state law mandates that he can protest on public sidewalks.
Still, Turnbull said she and her husband are discussing pulling their son out of school.
“I absolutely am not sure I’m going to send him that day,” she said. “There are a lot of crazy people in the world, and there are people out there who want to do (Jones) harm. The potential for a safety hazard—I don’t know that it’s worth the risk.”
She added that she’s equally concerned about those who might show up at the demonstration, as well as Edsel students who may get worked up over the message Jones preaches at their school.
“Any time you say something against what a teenager believes … they’re going to be inflamed,” she said.
Mustonen said the district has faith in the “caliber of Edsel Ford students” to prove that Jones will not cause a major disturbance.
Turnbull hopes they’re right.
“In the end,” she said, “I have to trust that the school and police department and the city … that the people who know how to deal with this have all talked to each other and have to come to what they think is the best action to take.”