By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Jim Albertini will be able to speak at Hilo High School after all.
The anti-war activist said that Principal Bob Dircks notified his attorney on Friday that he will be allowed to speak to students, reversing a decision made two days prior to cancel the event due to a backlash over his outspoken views of the military.
The previous day, Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz, representing Albertini, threatened the school with a lawsuit over alleged civil liberties violations if his presentation wasn’t allowed.
Dircks could not be reached for comment, but state Department of Education spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz on Monday confirmed that Albertini has been re-invited to the school. She also said that Dircks will request a police presence. Another speaker is being sought to counter his views.
The principal said last week that he was concerned the speech on participatory democracy could prove too disruptive for the school due to the backlash.
Dircks said last week he had received about 50 emails, evenly split, between those wishing to have the presentation cancelled and those supporting Albertini.
Some writers called the activist, who has spent decades protesting the military, “anti-American” and questioned the educational value of the presentation, which Albertini acknowledged would include criticism of U.S. military policy.
Albertini also said the event was cancelled due to an unspecific threat that could affect the school’s operation.
Dela Cruz confirmed a threat was made.
She said it didn’t have to do with property or personal safety but otherwise declined to elaborate.
“The reasons that the principal made the decision to call the event off was the fact that there was a possible disruption to campus,” Dela Cruz said.
Dircks said last week he wasn’t aware of plans for protests at the school.
No report was made to police, but nonetheless Dela Cruz said the principal is requesting a police presence for security.
Police spokeswoman Chris Loos said she was not aware of a request for a police presence being made as of Monday morning.
Social studies teacher Joseph Watts had invited Albertini to speak to students on March 6 and 8.
Albertini said it appears the same dates will be kept. Another speaker will likely be scheduled for a separate day, he said.
He has said his topics would include the military presence in Hawaii, ongoing wars, use of drones, depleted uranium contamination and the “role of non-violent resistance for peace and justice.”
The lawsuit would have been filed in federal court on Monday if he was not allowed to speak, Albertini said. He said the suit would have alleged violations of fairness doctrines relating to the First Amendment.
Since military recruits and the ROTC are allowed on campus, anti-war views must also be allowed, Albertini said.
“I prefer not to go to court,” he said. “So, I think this is good. We’ll see.”
The controversy started when school Librarian Amy Okuyama wrote a letter to Watts protesting the selection.
The presentation was scheduled for the library, and Okuyama objected to use of the space, claiming the presentation would be biased against the military. Her son serves in the military.
She received support from others opposed to Albertini’s anti-war views.
Okuyama said she is fine with the decision since another speaker will be invited, though probably on a different day.
“I think it’s good that it will be taking place,” Okuyama said. “In this case, they will be having both sides presented.”
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.