May 042011
 
Authors: Erin Udell

Two rival Parker, Colo. high schools may be putting their differences aside this spring in the wake of protest threats from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.

After Ponderosa High School student Ryan Wheeler published a March 20 guest column in the Denver Post questioning the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling of Westboro’s constitutional right to protest at military funerals, the Topeka, Kansas-based church announced plans to protest the high school’s May 19 graduation.

Tessa Sullivan, a senior at nearby Chaparral High School, learned of the possible protest and took to her Facebook page, creating a group to peacefully protest the church’s demonstration.

“Regardless of rivalry, that (the Westboro protest) seemed entirely like crossing a line,” Sullivan said. “So I made the group in hopes that a couple people would come out and help me support Ponderosa.”

Since the group’s inception, Sullivan has seen an outpouring of support from her classmates and the community, with more than 750 electronic event RSVPs and multiple offerings of donations and signage for the protest.

In an April 25 Westboro news release the church’s statement included, “It is shameful the state of those students ­­–– they have been taught rebellion against God, to run after their lusts and love that which God Almighty calls abomination and worthy of death.”

After the church’s announcement, the Douglas County School District released a statement on its official website encouraging students, family members of graduates and the Parker community to ignore the protests.

“The District’s Security personnel and Parker Police have identified suitable locations for the protesters to gather, while ensuring those attending the graduation ceremony will be kept a safe distance from the protesters on both sides of the issue,” the release says. “We ask all of those involved to avoid engaging or inciting the protesters.”

The school district has been working with the Parker Police Department for the past two weeks to prepare for both demonstrations, said Sara Walla, the department’s Public Information Officer.

“The police presence will be there to make sure there was peace within the counter protest,” Sullivan said. “That was not the intention of the group from the beginning, so I hope it will continue to be about supporting Ponderosa.”

The protests will take place on public land near the graduation’s site, Parker’s Sports Authority Stadium, according to Randy Barber, spokesman for Douglas County Schools.

“We have to be sort of ready for whatever sort of threats anyone may come after the Westboro folks with,” Barber said. “Our hope is there won’t be any impact on the graduation.”

“We recognize both sides and their First Amendment rights,” Barber said of the demonstrators. “What we’re hoping to do is protect all these seniors that worked so hard to get to graduation day while also recognizing the rights of the protesters.”

Senior Reporter Erin Udell can be reached at news@collegian.com.

What Happened?

Where: Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colo.
What: After student Kevin Wheeler published a guest column in the Denver Post on March 20 that questioned the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling of Westboro’s constitutional right to protest funerals, the Topeka, Kansas-based church plans to protest the school’s graduation on May 19.
Response: Hearing of the event, Tessa Sullivan, of Ponderosa’s rival Chaparral High School, set up a group on Facebook to peacefully protest the church’s demonstration.

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