A huge turnout is expected at a special Bedford Public Schools Board of Education meeting Tuesday to discuss the controversy over Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's plans to speak at its high school graduation on June 6.
"It's going to be one heck of a meeting," board member Laura Senters said yesterday after board president Bill Henning confirmed that the issue had been added to the agenda.
Two board members on opposite sides of the Kerry speech asked Mr. Henning to add it to the meeting that had been called to discuss labor negotiations.
Requesting the addition were Steven Lennex, who called plans for Mr. Kerry's speech "a hijacking of our graduation," and John Mohr, who called it "something the kids will truly remember." Both have daughters in the graduating class.
Mr. Lennex has said he is the only school board member - but one of many community members - opposing Mr. Kerry's commencement address. He promised to offer alternatives Tuesday, including allowing Mr. Kerry to use school facilities for a speech another day and inviting President Bush to do the same.
He said the board could ask that Mr. Kerry grant an interview to student newspaper co-editor Brandon Spader. Mr. Spader, a senior, had asked President Bush and Mr. Kerry for interviews for the high school paper, The Goal Post.
The Kerry campaign responded by volunteering Mr. Kerry as a speaker at Bedford's graduation in the University of Toledo's Savage Hall. The school has not traditionally had guest speakers at commencement, but administrators agreed to have Mr. Kerry, without a formal vote of the school board. President Bush did not respond to Mr. Spader's request for an interview.
"If the Kerry campaign and John Kerry himself knew what an issue this is creating, he himself would not want to be there," Mr. Lennex said. He and other opponents say a commencement speech from any national figure would take attention away from the students and lead to a spectacle of protesters, sightseers, and security.
Mr. Lennex, a Republican, said his opposition was unrelated to politics and declined to discuss his political affiliation or a $30 contribution he gave to the Bush campaign. That contribution is listed on the Bush campaign's Internet site.
Alec Byrne, president of the Bedford Township Republican Club, said Mr. Lennex is one of the club's 25 active members and "an active, grass-roots, conservative Republican."
Mr. Henning said a speech from Mr. Kerry seems like it should fit perfectly with the motto at the high school's front doors, "Enter to learn - depart to serve."
Ms. Senters, a Democrat, said she considers Mr. Kerry's appearance "a huge honor" and was surprised by the division it created. "I thought people would be delighted," she said.
The board meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, but the location is not expected to be set until tomorrow morning. Ms. Senters said board members want to arrange for a meeting room large enough for a crowd.
She had taken 15 phone calls, some pro and some con, at midday yesterday.
"It created a firestorm. I knew it would," Mr. Lennex said. "My phone's been ringing all day, and they say they're bringing friends [to the meeting]."
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