School makes national news for canceling Hollywood producer's speech
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RONAN — Ronan made national news last week after Ronan High School principal Tom Stack canceled a guest speaker due to concerns over his political views.
Nearly two months ago, Hollywood movie producer and Montana native Gerald Molen was asked to give a speech to the Lake County Republican Women's Club. Shortly after, he was asked to give a speech to Ronan's graduating seniors, as he would already be in town.
Molen agreed to the second speech because, "I love working with kids."
Molen said he spent the better part of three weeks writing two separate speeches: one for the Lake County Republican Women's Club, and one for Ronan High School seniors.
Born and raised in Montana, Molen served for three years in the Marine Corps after high school. Afterward, he took a job as a mechanic on Hollywood production sets. Working his way up the ladder over the years, he eventually produced movies like "Twister," "Schindler's List," and "Jurassic Park."
On May 14, he arrived at Ronan High School 15 minutes before his speech was set to begin. While still in the parking lot, he was informed that Stack had canceled his speech.
Stack had no comment on the matter.
Molen said that he was told his right-wing or conservative point of view might not be right for the kids. The principal explained that he had made the decision himself, and that several people had called in the days before and expressed concern over the political views which might be present in Molen's speech.
The Valley Journal obtained a copy of Molen's speech and can independently confirm that it contains no political ideology of any kind, conservative or liberal.
"It saddens me greatly to think that things like this happen in America," Molen said. "I understand that the school might be concerned, but it stops at the brink of stupidity when someone won't pick up the phone and ask a question to alleviate their concerns."
On May 26, The Daily Inter Lake published a guest column by Molen detailing the episode. It was national news within a week and went viral on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Marine Corps veteran and Ronan resident Chuck Lewis was outraged, both at the way Molen was treated and the opportunity denied the graduating seniors.
"When you talk about success stories and someone who works hard from the bottom to top, it's one of those things that should have been heard," Lewis said. "It's a real success story from a real American ... what happened here goes against everything we served for."
On Friday, June 8, the Ronan School Board received between 400 and 500 e-mails on the subject. Subject lines on the e-mails range from "Fire Tom Stack" to "Education or Channeling Thoughts?"
Seven-year school board veteran and current school volunteer Susan Lake was present during Stack's meeting with Molen. While she believes the students missed a wonderful opportunity, she thinks the focus has been taken off the real issue at hand.
Lake said the decision to cancel was only made after several Democratic community members threatened to sit in the classroom while Molen spoke.
The individuals made clear their intention to take notes and object to political opinions they disagreed with. It remains unclear whether or not these people were parents.
"I believe the principal was concerned that he was throwing the kids into the middle of a firestorm ... the principal is a good man, " Lake said.
Lake believes the discussion on children being exposed to one-sided information in the classroom is an important one. Unfortunately, Lake said, that isn't the conversation people are having.
"We need to wake up and realize that our kids are not getting the education they should be getting in a public school," she said.
Stack tendered his resignation on Feb. 29. In his letter, Stack said he had accepted a job as the superintendent of Clinton Schools for the 2012-13 school year.
"It wasn't an easy decision, as I have made many friends both in the school and in the community. Ultimately, this was what is best for me and my family," he wrote.
Several days ago, Ronan School superintendent Andy Holmlund apologized to Molen for the way the incident was handled.
"It was both a sincere apology from my heart, and an official apology as I am the voice of the school district," Holmlund said.
Holmlund said Molen accepted the apology, and as far as the school is concerned, the matter is closed.