Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s April 24 speech at Grosse Pointe South High School in Michigan was cancelled by the
Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum's April 24 speech at Grosse Pointe South High School in Michigan was cancelled by the district.

GROSSE POINT FARMS — Rick Santorum's speaking engagement at a Michigan high school is back on, after school officials say they reached a compromise to allow parents to choose whether to send their child to the April 24 event.

Grosse Pointe South High School officials on Monday had canceled the former presidential candidate's scheduled speech to students, sparking a community uproar. The district announced at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday that parents will be sent an in-school permission form if they want their student to hear Santorum speak during an assembly at the school.

"The compromise was reached today between the Grosse Pointe Public School System administration and the South student club Young Americans for Freedom," district spokeswoman Rebecca Fannon said.

"The district recognizes Mr. Santorum's leadership qualities, having served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 1995, and in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2007. As part of an educational environment, we provide multiple opportunities for our students and staff to hear and examine various viewpoints," the statement says.

Fannon said the district has been assured the primary focus of Santorum's remarks will be on leadership and community service, "two qualities we seek to instill in our students," Fannon said.

The student group Young Americans for Freedom raised $18,000 to pay Santorum to speak, according to the district.

Earlier Wednesday, Fannon said Superintendent Thomas Harwood had canceled the speaking engagement after being denied an advance copy of Santorum's speech and learning the former senator had never addressed high school students before.

One of the two students responsible for arranging Santorum's appearance said school officials cited Santorum's conservative social views and concerns over student safety during the event.

Langston Bowens, an 18-year-old senior at Grosse Pointe South High School, said some teachers became angry Monday when Santorum's appearance was announced. He said they sent video clips from Santorum's speeches to the school's principal and the district's superintendent.

"The teachers called Santorum a bigot and a racist," Bowens said. "They said he is controversial and shouldn't speak in front of students."

Upon learning of the district's reversal, Bowens was elated.

"That's phenomenal news. It's better than nothing. It's better than where we were before. I would prefer that students get to opt-out of the event, that would easier than the permission slip," he said.

Bowens said his group invited 2,000 people to the event including students from Grosse Pointe North High School and local politicians.

"We will see what will happen. The capacity in the bleachers alone is 2,000 plus 500 chairs on the floor," he said.

Harwood met with Grosse Pointe High School principal Matt Outlaw and student Peter Fox, who was instrumental in getting Santorum to accept the invitation, and informed them of the decision, Fannon said. Parents were informed via email the same day, she said.

Santorum's Facebook page posted a statement late Monday: "It's a sad day when liberal educators are allowed to influence young minds — extending free speech rights only to those who share their liberal views. The cancellation of my speech in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, later this month has nothing to do with the content of a speech, but rather the context of my convictions."

Jenny Nolan, chairman of the local Eastside Republican Party, said she was not familiar with the specifics behind the cancellation, but she said the decision to cancel was tantamount to hiding alternative views from student.

"If we disagree with someone's opinion, we shut them down. We don't even listen to them. That's a really bad way to go in this country. We need to listen to all voices. Especially our kids need to listen to all voices," she said.

"Kudos to the kids who got a national figure to come speak at the school. They deserve a lot of credit for doing that. I am surprised the school would shut it down," she said.

Santorum, 54, helped to create Patriot Voices after his failed bid to win the 2012 GOP presidential nomination that eventually went to Detroit native Mitt Romney. In an interview last month, Santorum said he hasn't ruled out another run at the presidency.

jchambers@detroitnews.com

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