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Unnamed student apologizes for hanging 'Build A Wall' banner

Boy open to having 'formal and sincere conversation accompanied by verbal apology'


This sign was hung Wednesday night at Forest Grove High School -- and it sparked a protest the next day. The boy's letter was so well-written and compelling that some online commenters wondered if his parents had written it for him.

It was an apology letter from an unnamed student who participated in the hanging of a “Build A Wall” banner inside Forest Grove High School Wednesday, May 18. It appeared on a blog posted to the Forest Grove Community Facebook page around mid-day Thursday.

The blogger, Jayne Cravens, wrote that the student emailed the letter earlier that morning to Forest Grove High School and addressed it to Principal Karen O'Neill, assistant principals Tami Erion, Brian Burke and Doug Thompson, and to Forest Grove School District Superintendent Yvonne Curtis.

Cravens, a friend of the family, told the News-Times she saw the boy's original draft and asked to talk with him about the incident, then took notes on his comments as he talked with both her and with his mother.

She then gave him the notes she had taken and he wrote a new letter based on his own words from those conversations. The words are "100 percent" his own, said Cravens, who believes the school district required the boy to write an apology as part of disciplinary action.

School district officials do not talk about disciplinary actions but O'Neill confirmed the school received the letter of apology from the student.

The banner — a reference to illegal immigration along the Texas-Mexican border — sparked a walkout and protest by more than 600 FGHS students Thursday morning.

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear Forest Grove and Cornelius Community,

On May 18th, I hung a banner in Forest Grove High School that said, “Build a Wall.” I don’t actually believe that a wall needs to be built along our border. I wanted to do something provocative to protest what I see as restrictions on freedom of speech. I was feeling like people weren’t open to discuss sensitive issues, because no matter what is said, no matter what words I used, someone says, “That’s offensive!” I was angry, and I thought this would be a great way to express my belief in freedom of speech.

But I now understand that I chose a really bad place and way of expressing my belief on free speech. In trying to be noticeable, I used a message that held a strong, threatening connotation. I did not see that it was as strong or as negative as it was — but now I do. I understand now why it is being called racist and that I’ve made some students feel they and their families are not wanted at Forest Grove High School. That was never my intention.

I am truly sorry for anyone that I have hurt. Because my words did hurt — I understand that now. I will think more carefully in the future about my words and my actions. I still passionately believe in freedom of speech, but I also understand that just because it’s legal to do something doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.

I will work to learn about other cultures and how different people perceive different messages. I am going to learn much more about the issues of immigrants in the USA, especially Forest Grove, and learn about why they have come, what their life is like, the challenges they face and how they improve this community.

I may be present at the walkout that I have heard is happening later today. I may not. I haven’t decided yet. I haven’t decided yet what’s best for the school, and what I should do regarding my participation. And to anyone that would like to have a formal and sincere conversation accompanied by a verbal apology I would like to make myself available.

I would sincerely ask that people not threaten violence, or engage in violence, over this incident. As students yelled and drove by my home today, I was scared not for myself, but for my family. I love my family very much — a family I have disappointed and that did not raise me this way — and I want them to be safe.

On her blog, Cravens lists herself as an “international consultant, researcher and trainer” who focuses on communications, volunteer involvement, community engagement and management and management for nonprofits, NGOs and government initiatives.”

The blog is at coyotecommunications.com/coyoteblog/.

As for her motivation for putting the letter online: “I am sharing it here on my professional blog because the family urgently wants this apology to get to the community. It is being shared with their permission."