(CNSNews.com) - The deputy school superintendent in Fairfield, Conn., said the school system did not sanction a recent "save the rainforests" excursion by second-grade students. He also said media coverage of the event resulted from a "misunderstanding."
The Rainforest Action Network asked the second graders to visit JP Morgan Chase Bank, where they had cookies and milk, John Boyle, deputy superintendent for the Fairfield County, Conn., public school system, told Cybercast News Service . "It was never intended as any kind of a demonstration -- protest," he said.
The elementary school students visited New York City last week at the behest of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to "hand deliver over 700 colorful handmade posters from children around the world asking William B. Harrison, chief executive officer of JP Morgan Chase, to keep his promise and stop lending money to projects that destroy endangered forests and cause global warming," a RAN press release stated.
One of the posters the children presented to JP Morgan Chase read: "Be A Hero ... Save the Rainforest. Save the World. Please protect the rainforest instead of hurting the Earth for oil."
"The teacher took a personal day; the kids were marked absent from school. ... It was not a school field trip at all," Boyle said.
"We do not use kids for any political protests or activism; we just don't do that with kids. We are in the business of educating kids, not using them," he explained.
"If they were used by the Rainforest Action Network or whatever the name of the organization is, I think your issue is with them," he added.
Paula Healey, the elementary school teacher who accompanied the second graders, released a statement yesterday through Boyle's office entitled "Facts About Our Visit to New York City on Dec. 16, 2004," to explain her point of view.
"The Fairfield Public Schools did not sponsor this trip to New York City. I took a personal day from teaching to join some of my former students," Healey's statement read.
Healey is currently a teacher at Burr Elementary School in Fairfield. She accompanied her former first grade students, now second graders, from nearby Mill Hill Elementary, where she taught last year.
"The children and their families were well aware that this day together would be taking place outside of the school day, and that if they chose to join us, they would be considered absent from school. In no way was this considered a school field trip," Healey said.
Healey said that no school transportation was used, and the visit to JP Morgan Chase was not intended to be viewed as a "protest."
"We were there simply to deliver the posters to Chase. I had no prior knowledge that this event would get any media coverage. I had no idea, nor intention, for this to be a political statement," Healey wrote.
But RAN issued a press release on the day the students visited, touting the children's visit to JP Morgan Chase and saying that the students were teaching the "mega-bank" to "keep its promises."
"JP Morgan Chase knew we were coming. The children were invited up to their offices, where they handed the posters to a Chase representative. Chase was extremely gracious and offered milk and cookies to all the children," she added.
Healey was quoted in the RAN press release as saying: "Children around the world are asking JP Morgan Chase to invest in their future by doing its part to protect the world's last remaining rainforests."
"Earth is on loan to us from future generations, and these students know the value of protecting their natural inheritance," Healey added.
'A thank you' to the children
According to Boyle, the second-graders' trip to New York City was organized by RAN as a "thank you" for the children raising money for the environmental group.
"The kids were taken there by their parents; they were invited as a 'thank you' for their contribution of $523," Boyle said.
When the students were in first grade, they raised the $523 to help save the rainforests by contributing to RAN's "Protect-an-Acre program," according to Boyle.
"The youngsters raised money to protect an acre of the rainforest. This organization, the Rainforest Action Network, sent an invitation to the teacher asking them to come to New York City to go to the Museum of Natural History; they had a tour of the bio-diversity exhibit, had lunch" before visiting JP Morgan Chase, he added.
When asked why the Fairfield County public school system allowed the students to raise money for RAN last year when many critics view the environmental group as highly political, Boyle said that was a unique occurrence.
"I think this is a one-time experience. Part of their curriculum is the rainforest, to study the rainforest. And evidently, that is a project the class took on," Boyle said.
When pressed as to whether he considered RAN political, Boyle said: "I don't believe the intent of the teacher was to do any political action activity.
"Do I think it is [political?] I never heard of it until Fox News had it on [TV]. ... The principal would have to approve [of the fundraising]," Boyle said.
"I would not support any activity that would use kids for political action -- any activity -- that is why they are raising money, writing letters, drawing posters to study the rainforests and talk about the effects that pollution or whatever have on the rainforest, the ecosystem of rainforests; those kinds of activities could be taught as part of the curriculum," he said.
"The school system has no problem in studying the rainforest and doing activities to help support the rainforests," he added.
However, environmental critic Robert Bidinotto, an editor at the nonprofit watchdog group Capital Research Center, called RAN's efforts a "shameless manipulation" of the children.
"It's difficult to know which is worse: the factual nonsense propagated by RAN, the capitulation to them by major corporations or the political exploitation of innocent children," Bidinotto told Cybercast News Service . Bidinotto also publishes the ecoNOT.com website,which chronicles the environmental movement.
"I'd have to say it's the shameless manipulation of little kids for propaganda purposes," he added.
See Earlier Story:
Green Group's Recruitment of Grade Schoolers Called 'Shameless' (Dec. 21, 2004)
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