Shaggy, Eminem Crackdowns Trigger School Protests

By | March 6, 2001 at 12:00 AM

In Mishawaka, Indiana, 250 students staged a walkout to protest a no-music rule, while a music teacher in Tipton, Iowa, resigned after administrators asked her to halt a student-group research project on Eminem.

Music was banned on all Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. buses February 23 in Mishawka, after a parent complained that her child, an elementary student, was exposed to the graphic lyrics of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” on the bus radio. Last week, the ban was widened to include music played in all district buildings, including music usually played during study halls and gym classes.

In response, about 250 of Penn High School’s 1,100 students organized a walkout during first period Friday and asked administrators to reconsider the ban, according to the South Bend Tribune. Some protesters flashed signs that read “Honk if you like music” to passing cars.

Speaking to the crowd gathered at a church parking lot across from the school, senior Blake Heberle said, “As a public school, it must follow the laws of our land. It cannot arbitrarily ban our First Amendment rights because it does not agree with the message. The Bill of Rights are not suggestions. They are laws.”

The day before the protest, Superintendent Vickie Markavitch appeared on the school’s television network and urged students to forgo the protest. The 250 who took part were marked as truant.

In Tipton, a sixth grader’s parents complained to school officials after their daughter found material on the Internet her parents deemed inappropriate while she researched a project on controversial rapper Eminem.

Cassie Johnson, the school’s 24-year-old music teacher, stopped the Eminem research for the group that included the child whose parents complained, but she allowed a group in her other class to report on him.

When administrators reprimanded Johnson for her actions, she resigned.

“[Eminem] is a mainstream artist. He’s played on the radio, and the kids know who he is,” Johnson told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. (She did not return phone calls for this story.) “They were really excited about this project because it put them in charge of their learning. I just didn’t think that it would be right for the kids who had been working on this for a month to throw it into the trash.”

Superintendent Jeff Corkery said Johnson was “stupid” to quit and that she “never understood that it was not about free speech.”

Johnson, whose February 16 resignation was accepted by the school board last week, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the student presentations didn’t have any references to Eminem’s lyrics, which contain obscenities and references to sex and violence. The presentations were assigned only to six graders and accompanied a similar project on classical composers.

Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP has sold more than 8 million copies and earned the Detroit native three Grammys, despite heavy protest from gay and women’s groups over the album’s content.

Shaggy, whose infidelity anthem, “It Wasn’t Me,” includes the phrase “we were both butt naked,” has claimed the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart for four consecutive weeks with Hot Shot.

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