Education Campaign Notebook

Vigil for Iraq War Dead Raises Political Issues for School

By Michelle R. Davis — September 27, 2004 1 min read

A candlelight vigil to remember members of the U.S. military killed in Iraq has turned into a lesson in politics for Medina High School in Ohio.

The school had just lost one of its graduates to the war when the proposal for the Sept. 9 vigil came along. U.S. Army Pfc. Devin Grella, 21, died Sept. 6 when the fuel truck he was driving was involved in a bomb explosion on an Iraqi road.

So when Randy Stepp, the director of secondary initiatives at the 2,400-student Medina High in the Medina City School District, heard about the vigil, he thought it might help the healing process. He advertised the event to students, and about 65 people showed up to walk around the Medina public square carrying candles, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

But the next day, The Plain Dealer reported that the liberal activist group had sponsored the vigil, one of some 1,000 gatherings across the country on that day to protest the war in Iraq.

Mr. Stepp said he had no idea a political group was behind the vigil and would never have promoted it had he known.

“I don’t want to try to use someone’s death in any way politically,” he said, adding that he ended up dealing with angry parents and tearful students.

Linda Schiller-Hanna, the community activist who encouraged Mr. Stepp to send students to the vigil, told The Plain Dealer she didn’t think it mattered that was involved. But she has since written a letter of apology to Mr. Stepp and the school. She didn’t return telephone calls last week.