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Student ad triggers debate
Some say Warwick High sophomore's ad 'undercuts the military'
By Mike Dawson
Times Herald-Record, firstname.lastname@example.org
Warwick – If creating a buzz is rule No. 1 in advertising, then an anonymous Warwick Valley High School sophomore has a bright future.
Set on a backdrop of neat rows of tombstones, a full-page ad in October's The Survey, Warwick Valley High School's monthly student-run newspaper, reads:
"You can't be all that you can be if you're dead. There are other ways to serve your country. There are other ways to get money for college. There are other ways to be all you can be.
THINK ABOUT IT. Before you sign your life away."
The ad was created and paid for by a Warwick student who is a member of the Bruderhof community, a Christian-based communal order in Sugar Loaf that preaches pacifism. And since appearing last week, the ad has sparked controversy in the school district and the community and provoked lively First Amendment debates among students and teachers in the classroom.
The ad was approved by the school's journalism teacher and faculty adviser for The Survey, Denise Markt, and Randy Barbarash, the school's principal.
"I knew the ad would be controversial, but we felt it had a place in our publication as a matter of free speech," Barbarash said. "It has definitely been the source of some lively discussion in the classrooms."
Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Bruderhof community, said the order, while it supports the student's effort and the ad's message, played no role in the ad's creation or placement.
Calling it a political ad with religious ties, some parents, faculty members and students say the ad undercuts those serving in the military and shouldn't have appeared in a tax-funded public school newspaper.
Many opposed to the ad noted the school's "Wall of Honor," which displays photos and names of about 20 recent Warwick graduates currently serving in the military, many of whom are in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Maggie Adams, the Warwick High nurse, who has two sons who graduated from Warwick and are serving in the Marines, said she was outraged when she first saw the ad and has written a letter to the editor of The Survey.
"I understand the right to free speech and I support that. But I don't think it's appropriate for a school newspaper," Adams said. "I refuse to believe what the ad says. I refuse to believe those people who choose to join the military, like my two sons, are wasting their lives."
Army Capt. William Bliss, in charge of recruiting at Warwick High, said the ad was misleading and the Army is exploring placing some of its own ads in The Survey.
"It's disappointing when you see something that blatantly attacks what you do and what you believe in a school newspaper," Bliss said. "But it's free speech, ideas and thoughts like that, whether you agree or not, the military is fighting to protect."
The ad cost $50 and was part of a year-long buy totaling $450. The student was planning to create a string of different ads on various subjects for the year.
While Barbarash said administrators have yet to determine if the controversial ad would run again, Zimmerman said the student has been told by school officials the district was pulling the ad for future issues.
Zimmerman said the Bruderhof community supports veterans, the military and the government, but also democratic dissent.
"The ad wasn't meant to create hate or anger," Zimmerman said. "It was to get people to think and discuss and it seems to be doing just that."