A national tour featuring decorated veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan won't be stopping at Forest Lake Area High School today as planned, after school leaders abruptly canceled the visit.
Steve Massey, the school principal, said the decision to cancel was prompted by concerns that the event was becoming political rather than educational and therefore was not suitable for a public school.
He said the school had received several phone calls from parents and others, some of whom indicated that they may stage a protest if the event took place.
"The event was structured to be an academic classroom discussion around military service. We thought we'd provide an opportunity for kids to learn about service in the context of our history classes," Massey said. "As the day progressed, it became clear that this was becoming a political event ... which would be inappropriate in a public setting.
"We decided to cancel," Massey said. Organizers of the National Heroes Tour then scrambled to relocate the event to the American Legion building in Forest Lake. The visit, which U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann
, had been scheduled to attend, is sponsored by Vets for Freedom, a national organization run by Pete Hegseth, a 1999 graduate of Forest Lake Area High School who served with the 101st Airborne in Iraq in 2005-06.
"I think it's extremely unfortunate that a school would bow to the political pressure of outside groups and not bring in a veterans organization," Hegseth said. "Are we saying that patriotism and duty and honor have no place in our public schools?" So far, the tour has visited one school, albeit a private school.
The stop in Forest Lake was supposed to involve about 150 social studies students and was going to be closed to the public but open to the media. But the last-minute venue change left Hegseth wondering how many people would actually show up today.
"I don't know if we'll have a crowd," he said. "We changed venues, but we don't have the ability to publicize it." He said he had talked with school officials ahead of time and assured them that the presenters would not make any political statements.
"We had a number of conversations at the beginning of this to make sure our message was in keeping with the traditions of a public school," Hegseth said.
"We have not endorsed a presidential candidate. We're not in the business of doing that." According to the Veterans for Freedom website, the national tour "is about supporting our troops, honoring their commitment and rallying the country to complete the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At this critical juncture in our country, we need Americans, lawmakers and the media to fully recognize -- and appreciate -- the sacrifice of our brave military and the dramatic success they have achieved, especially in Iraq with the new counterinsurgency strategy."
When asked whether the part about "rallying the country to complete the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan" could indeed be construed as political, Hegseth said that the group agreed not to advocate about the "progress made in Iraq and Afghanistan."
"It's Iraq and Afghan veterans talking about what they saw and what they did there, and about what it means to put on the uniform of your country," he said. The veterans started their bus tour in San Diego on March 14 and will end April 9 in New York City.
Allie Shah • 651-298-1550