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Death of AIDS Victim Ryan White Sparks Protest

April 14, 1990

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) _ Thirty-five middle school students were suspended for staging a sit-in when school administrators refused to let them lower the school’s flag in honor of AIDS victim Ryan White.

The students at Madison Middle School sat around the school flagpole, saying they would not return to class until the American flag was lowered to half-staff.

The students’ planned tribute Wednesday coincided with the day of White’s funeral in Indiana. The teen-ager, who was a hemophiliac, died Sunday from AIDS-related complications. He had contracted the disease from tainted blood products.

When middle school officials declined to lower the flag the morning of White’s funeral, a number of students left their classrooms and sat around the flagpole, school officials said.

Assistant Principal Carl Ihle said officials were aware earlier that students wanted to lower the flag. Administrators scheduled an assembly to honor White Wednesday morning, but the students wanted more, he said.

After a flurry of calls by school officials, parents and children to the Eugene school superintendent’s office and to state and federal offices, Superintendent Margaret Nichols said she made the final decision not to lower the flag, based on the U.S. flag code.

Nichols said she did not have the authority to grant the students permission to lower the flag. However, she said she supported their right to disagree with the decision.

″It’s kind of like a little metaphor for what it’s like to be an American,″ Nichols said. ″People make a decision you do or don’t like.″

Students who refused to return to class were assessed a two-day suspension, Ihle said.

The school’s refusal to lower the flag raised questions among some parents.

″It’s like we can burn the flag in protest, but our kids can’t lower it for 15 minutes. I don’t get it,″ said Kathy Dennis, whose daughter, Michelle, 13, was among those suspended.

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