21 September 2007

And in Other Legal News...

A mother defends her daughter's right to free speech on her blog in New Haven, Connecticut.
Avery Doninger, who returned to enter her senior year Tuesday, criticized administrators including Superintendent Paula Schwartz and High School Principal Karissa Niehoff for a perceived effort to cancel a scheduled battle of bands contest on campus in the spring. She attributed problems as "due to the douchebags at central office."
The school administrators were clearly unimpressed with the criticism. They prohibited Ms. Doninger from running for Class Secretary, a position she had held for several years. Although there is a widely accepted, school-imposed restriction on making threatening statements against people in a school, and a restriction on inappropriate speech in school newsletters and yearbooks, this comment was clearly off school property, and a protest, not a threat. However,
The school assumed a parent's right to discipline it doesn't have, she [the girl's mother] said. In one of several interviews given in the wake of Friday's preliminary ruling at U.S. District Court in New Haven, Doninger was praised by a radio commentator as the mother who told her daughter "you're grounded, and we're going to federal court to file a civil suit."
I'm reminded of the famous Lenny Bruce quip: "Take away the right to say fuck, and you take away the right to say fuck the government." Ditto for the over-reaching "douchebags" in the school's central office.

But many school administrators miss a key point about protests, complaints, and yes, even disrespect posted on weblogs, Facebook, and similar venues. Such negative commentary surface underlying problems in the dynamics of the learning environments that they are attempting to create. Rather than attempting to stifle criticism in the name of discipline (and after all, according to Foucault, there is little difference between incarceration in a prison and incarceration in a classroom), school administrators should welcome the opportunity to open conversation and dialogue among themselves, faculty and students in order to create a healthy, open, and viable educational experience for all.

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