Parsippany (NJ) officials say H.S. mock trial of Bush crossed line
Board members blast class project; final 'testimony' to come

PARSIPPANY -- The war crimes "trial" of President Bush in a Parsippany High School classroom is expected to conclude today with additional defense testimony from the student playing Bush, but controversy over the project is continuing. "It clearly crossed a line," school board member Frank Calabria said Monday of the mock tribunal, in which Bush is charged with "crimes against civilian populations" and "inhumane treatment of prisoners." Calabria said he will be asking some questions --"What occurred, how did it happen, why did it
happen and exactly what are the ramifications"--when the board meets on Thursday. "We're polarizing people in an area that we shouldn't be," said Calabria, who is running for re-election in April. Mayor Michael Luther also criticized the trial on Monday, saying it "breeds disrespect to accuse the commander-in-chief of being a war criminal." "My initial reaction was, I didn't like it. I thought it was too emotional and not necessarily a proper exercise ... I was not comfortable with it,"said Luther, a Democrat. Luther thought the overall tone of the project was too rough, particularly given the involvement of high school students. "It's a very emotional time
for the country, in terms of the state of war," Luther said.

Teacher Joseph Kyle, whose advanced placement government and
politics class researched the project and opened the trial Feb. 27, continued to stand by it. "Everybody has an opinion. I don't agree,"
Kyle said in response to Luther's comments.

Nationwide reactions

Kyle, 37, an 8-year teacher at the high school, has been the subject of mostly critical but also some supportive feedback from across the nation since the mock tribunal was first reported in last Thursday's Daily Record.

In a format change announced by Interim Superintendent James Dwyer on Friday, the five-teacher
"international court of justice" will not reach a verdict on Bush, and instead will prepare evaluations of student performances.

School board president Robert Perlett said Monday that a verdict would have detracted from the project.

"Guilty or not guilty, that's all people remember. There was much more to the project than that," Perlett said.

A meltdown

The teachers' union president, however, charged that administrators in the K-12 district were swayed by the firestorm into making the change.

"They just couldn't take the heat," said union president John Capsouras, who defended the class project.

Capsouras said that Kyle and his students, including two who appeared with him on Fox News on Sunday, "deserve a lot of credit for grace under fire."

Much of the reaction, pro and con, to Kyle and the mock tribunal has been from outside New Jersey. Calabria said he received e-mails from Texas, California and elsewhere.

Perlett said he expected that local residents will want to address the issue at Thursday's board meeting.

"There will be a reference to it, in all probability," Perlett said.

He said that neither Kyle, who received approval for the project in advance from principal Anthony Sciaino, nor the principal did anything wrong.

Back in class

Kyle, who said he didn't plan to attend the board meeting, said the trial would conclude today with further testimony from "Bush" and closing arguments.

The student standing in for the president, Xiaoyuan Jiang, was questioned on Monday by Preeti Shenoy,
part of the four-student defense team, and Peter Chen, one of four prosecutors.

"I thought (Shenoy) did an excellent job of trying to make the case that the president has never condoned these actions,"Kyle said of alleged abuses of prisoners by U.S. forces.

Bush testified after a series of defense witnesses, including Vice President Dick Cheney, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and former U.S. Envoy to Iraq Paul Bremer.

Prosecution witnesses last week included students standing in for Sen. John McCain and Hachemi Abdullah,
an Iraqi man who allegedly lost several family members in a U.S. bombing raid.