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Pupils' anti-war protests barred

United states. Not all young Americans back their President's stance on Iraq.

Stephen Phillips reports.

Los Angeles education chiefs have narrowly stopped short of condemning a US-led attack on Iraq. In a heated meeting last week, they opted instead to encourage teachers to lead classroom debates on the issue, amid reports that pupils have been punished for peacefully expressing opposition to war.

Meanwhile, anti-war protesters gate-crashed a lavish reception at a school near Washington DC intended to showcase the White House's $30 million (pound;19m) package to help US schools prepare for possible terrorist attacks.

Fifty students from surrounding schools demonstrated outside the gates of Montgomery Blair high school, as US education minister Rod Paige and homeland security secretary Tom Ridge unveiled a disaster-preparedness website for schools to consult.

"Terrorism forces us to make a choice," Mr Ridge told assembled teachers and pupils. "We can be ready or afraid; we will be ready."

Back on the West Coast, Caprice Young, president of Los Angeles's board of education, said the anti-war resolution only failed to muster sufficient support because its language was deemed too "polarising".

"I feel very strongly that we shouldn't go to war unilaterally with Iraq at a time when local and state government are crippled by the recession. It's a misplaced priority."

Ms Young said eight incidents of students being barred or punished for staging peaceful anti-war demonstrations on school premises during lunch breaks had been reported to her. "Students are having their free speech stifled - that's not right."

There have been no reports of pro-war students being punished, Ms Young added.

At last week's meeting, anti-war student protesters rubbed shoulders with parents complaining that the motions under consideration improperly mixed politics with education.

Andy Griggs, a teacher at the city's Grape Street elementary school, sported a T-shirt bearing the slogan, "A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind" - a reference to President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, which may already be a funding casualty of increased military expenditure.

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