SAN FRANCISCO — The alternative high school John Walker Lindh attended three years before joining up with the Taliban has been the subject of withering rhetoric in America’s opinion pages, on talk radio and on the Internet.
Weeks have passed since a media onslaught hit the two-classroom school, where 80 full-time students meet with seven full-time teachers as part of an independent studies program. But angry calls, letters and e-mail continue to raise concerns for the safety of students and teachers.
Some students at the school in Larkspur, a Marin County town populated mainly by commuters to San Francisco, are worried colleges will reject their applications, and one alumnus in the military undergoing a security clearance was concerned the school’s association with Lindh would jeopardize his career.
Due to an editing error in an article about Lindh’s suburban upbringing, The Associated Press reported erroneously Dec. 13 that Tamiscal High School Principal Marcie Miller said the school remains proud of him as well as its other students.
Miller, who took the job 2 1/2 years ago — well after Lindh left Tamiscal and took off for the Middle East — had told the AP the school is proud of its students in general.
The only thing Miller initially had to say about Lindh — who attended Tamiscal for a year and a half before taking an equivalency exam and leaving at the age of 16 — was that teachers had called him “a gifted writer of poetry.”
“I never met John, so I never would have said that I am proud of him,” she said.
In fact, Lindh’s decision to volunteer for Osama bin Laden’s cause is “opposed to everything I’ve devoted my life to,” Miller said. “My brother is a Gulf War hero, I come from an extremely patriotic family, my father’s a veteran and I find this appalling, that I’m being cast as a villain who’s proud of anything John Walker Lindh has done since he left our school in January of 1998.”
Since Lindh, 20, was captured in Afghanistan, many Americans have been captivated by his journey from a wealthy suburb to the battlefields of the Middle East, and repulsed by his decision to take up arms with the Taliban.
Some have taken out their anger over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Tamiscal High and its principal, calling them “despicable” and “idiotic” in e-mails and phoning in threats. Syndicated radio show host Michael Savage called it a “rotting stinking left-wing” place.
“People are looking for someone to blame,” said her boss, Bill Levinson, the superintendent of the Tamalpais Union High School District.
“I’m in no way shape or form defending John Walker — he came to the school and left,” Levinson said. “The whole issue of who he is and what happens to him really belongs in the hands of others. I just want the school to be able to operate safely and without disruption.”
Miller said the last time she made headlines was when she brought a junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program into another alternative school, and was “criticized for being an arch-conservative.”
“I’m as outraged as all other Americans at the terrorist attack on this country; I mourn for the men and women who lost their lives and I support those who continue to risk their lives to defend our freedom,” Miller said.
“And I understand that America and the rest of the civilized world is seeking someone to blame for this outrage. However, it’s unfair to point a finger at a school that John Walker Lindh attended for a short time.”