Randy Bates' last lesson in government at George Marshall High School in Fairfax County has been a bitter one.
This year, Bates, a 17-year-old senior, has learned about democracy, free speech and freedom of the press from his government teacher, Betty Little. He also learned about the National Socialist White People's Party, commonly called the American Nazi party, which has offices nearby in Arlington.
Bates thought it would be "an educational experience" to have a member of the Nazi party speak to his class, so earlier this month he asked school officials if he could invite a Nazi to school.
But by yesterday Bates, in tears had learned that outside the classroom civics lessons can be painfully learned.
Area school superintendent Margaret Ford, who earlier told Bates he could invite the Nazi party member to the class, yesterday said he could not after the school PTA, which opposed the Nazi speaking invitation, asked her to reconsider her decision.
"I'm really upset about this whole thing," Bates said. "They teach us all about democracy and freedom of speech (in government class). I really think it would have been an educational experience."
Bates said his class had discussed the Nazi party, had seen movies on the group and had been asked by Little to watch "The Holocaust" on television.
He said he had other questions about the Nazis after the class discussions, which were about propaganda techniques.
Bates said he went to the Nazi party office in Arlington and talked with some of the party members. He picked up literature on the group and subsequently returned to the Arlington offices with some friends.
Later, he said, he and his friends told the class about their interviews with the party members in Arlington. After a class discussion, he asked the teacher if he could invite a Nazi Party member to speak to the government class.
Little told him he would have to ask the principal, J. A. Michael, which he did on May 5.
On May 10, Bates said, the Principal denied his request.
Michael said yesterday he was fearful of the impact the speaker would have on the "school atmosphere. Anytime you get a possible controversy coming in, there is a potential for disruption," he said.
After the request was denied, Bates appealed the decision to Ford, and a hearing was scheduled for May 19.
Ford said yesterday she agreed to allow a Nazi party member to speak to two government classes, about 60 students, after Little and Bates agreed to some stipulations - that student attendance would be voluntary, parental permission would be required for any student attending the speech and the Nazi speaker would not wear a uniform or show slides or film strips or distribute any literature.
But when the school's PTA later learned about the Nazi speaking request, its members asked Ford to reconsider her decision. "We felt that there would be a lot of reverberations in the school as well as the community," said Marge Schweitzer, president of the group.
Yesterday, Ford met with some PTA officials, the principal and Bates. She said Bates could not invite a Nazi to the school because the government class ends Friday and the time to prepare for such an outside speaker.
Said Bates yesterday afternoon: "It seems to me that they denied (the request) on the grounds that he (the speaker) was a Nazi. It's kind of an ironic twist to the end of the government class."