High School Students' Political Dispute Turns Violent

Nov 17, 2004 01:38 PM EST

A recent political debate at one Minnesota high school turned ugly, as two students who preferred one presidential contender physically attacked another teen who supported the other candidate.

Several students at the Apple Valley School of Environmental Studies were in a computer study room discussing the results of the 2004 presidential election. The high school, commonly known as the Zoo School, conducts classes at the Minnesota Zoo for students interested in specialized science and environmental programs. Juniors and seniors from the district's four high schools apply for spots at the magnet school, which offers classes in marine biology, ornithology, eco-architecture and indigenous philosophy.

But politics was the subject that gave a group of students trouble just days after the national election. The students' political discussion in the computer room grew heated and they began calling each other names. Later that day, in a parking lot near the school, the three pro-Kerry students proceeded to assault a 17-year-old peer who had supported George W. Bush in the earlier debate, viciously attacking both that student and another 17-year-old classmate who was trying to protect him.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom says the three students who physically assaulted the other two will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. "Fortunately there were no serious injuries," he says. "There were certainly cuts and bruises," he notes however, "and one of the two victims did have to receive some medical care, but he's recovering."

The three assailants allegedly punched and kicked the two students with whom they disagreed, and Backstrom says one of the assailants also struck his pro-Bush classmate with a baseball bat.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, this incident is believed to be the only election-related beating in Dakota County. Dan Bodette, principal of the Apple Valley School of Environmental Studies, says any kind of assault is rare at the 400-student magnet school.

The county attorney laments that such an incident could happen among teens at a high school, and he is taking the matter very seriously. "Certainly, it's a great thing to see young people interested in and excited about political issues," he says. "It's obviously very tragic and disturbing to see this kind of violence erupt as a result."

Backstrom says the incident is not something typically seen in his jurisdiction. "I hope we don't see it again," he says, "and we certainly are going to be proceeding to bring to justice those responsible for this attack."

The Dakota County prosecutor says one of the teenage attackers has been charged with second-degree assault, which is a felony. Another student was charged with misdemeanor assault, and a third was charged with disorderly conduct.