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Wendy Reuer, Published April 10 2013

Ed Schultz blasts Fargo for using students as ‘slave labor' to fill sandbags

FARGO – City and school leaders bristled at comments made Tuesday by syndicated liberal radio host Ed Schultz when he equated eighth-grade volunteers filling sandbags at Sandbag Central to “slave labor” helping only the rich.

“Consider the source,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said. “All the kids have permission slips from their parents. They are fed extremely well. They are enthusiastic in contributing to their community. So, I think the term ‘slave labor’ is incorrect, totally.”

According to a clip posted on Newsbusters, a right-wing website devoted to “exposing liberal media bias,” left-leaning Schultz teased on-air to his syndicated radio show on Tuesday with these comments (listen here.):

“Broadcasting from the city that has no bones about asking eighth-graders to come down to the facility and start making sandbags so the wealthy people don’t have to pay for a dike,” said Schultz, who got his start in broadcast as in TV sports in Fargo before hosting radio shows locally.

“Good ol’ Fargo, Nort’ Dakota. That’s how they flood fight. It’s called slave labor. Make ’em think they’re really building character. In fact, they have to build character every spring. The college kids, I think, have figured it out. Screw you! So now they’re picking on the eighth- graders.”

Schultz did not respond to an email seeking comment or return messages left on his cell phone Wednesday.

The eighth-grade classes of Ben Franklin, Discovery, and Carl Ben Eielson middle schools are each spending two days helping to fill sandbags at Sandbag Central during the 10-day campaign to fill about 1 million sandbags. The sandbags will be equally shared between the city of Fargo and Cass County. Students are bused from the schools to Sandbag Central each morning from about 9 a.m. and returned to school at about 2 p.m.

Local restaurants such as Mezzaluna, Rhombus Guys, Famous Dave’s and Maxwell’s have provided meals for volunteers and box lunches have been provided by the Salvation Army and American Red Cross. Wednesday, a group of local truck drivers gathered about $1,000 to provide a pizza lunch for students.

Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Schatz said Wednesday that slave labor is not a characterization of the students’ work.

“Our students have been involved in many different flood-fighting capacities over the past several years,” Schatz said. “It’s a good way for them to get involved in their community. We’re just a piece of the big picture of the whole flood fight.”

Schatz said principals at each school work with students who do not want to or are unable to volunteer for any reason.

“We certainly don’t force them to do anything,” he said. “Kids are rallying together and doing a great job. All reports we’ve had have been good.”

For Ben Franklin Middle School Principal John Nelson, the impact of flood volunteer work on the students has been evident.

Nelson, who has served as a principal since before the record-making 1997 flood, said former students still make mention of the time they spent helping sandbag.

“Community service is something that we want to instill in all of our children. So, here is an opportunity where we can help and we can have some fun doing it,” Nelson said.

In past floods, the city has relied on the help of local high school and college students. Nelson said he thinks eighth-graders participating this year “kind of feel honored to do it.”

“When they come back and the stories they tell, they’re certainly sounding like they are having fun and feeling good about being helpful,” Nelson said.

Walaker also scoffed at Schultz’s notion of sandbags only protecting “the rich.”

“(Sandbags are) the first line of defense for the community against the river,” he said.

As of Wednesday, volunteers have filled 876,000 sandbags.

Schultz, who still lives in Detroit Lakes, Minn., launched his nationally syndicated show in 2004 and landed a daily weekday show on MSNBC in 2009.

The cable channel last month announced Schultz was being replaced in the 7 p.m. time slot and would shift his show to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. He said at the time that the new show would debut sometime in mid-April.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530