Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pedantic Martinet

With Delusions
Of Grandeur

"... The First
Be Hanged"


Whatever you do, don't call them...
...douchebags. That's the lesson Avery Doninger from Burlington, CT, learned when school officials decided that what she posted on her LiveJournal was something they had a right to regulate.

Alas, if you search at Google for "douchebags" and "doninger," you get the text of a protected entry (I can only assume it wasn't, always) that reads, in part:
jamfest is cancelled due to douchebags in central office.

My thanks to madfilkentist for pointing out the Boston Globe story about Ms. Doninger's situation. After school officials somehow found out that she'd used the term to refer to some unnamed set of them, the school's principal (Karissa Niehoff) decided that any communication by a student was subject to her jurisdiction, and the First Amendment be hanged:

Several weeks after she posted the message in April, Niehoff demanded she apologize to the superintendent of schools, tell her mother about the blog entry, resign from the student council and withdraw
her candidacy for class secretary, the lawsuit alleges. While Doninger apologized and reported the incident to her mother, she refused to resign. Niehoff then "administratively removed" her from the post, the lawsuit said.

Niehoff later expressed her concern about student communication:

"When kids are in a position of privilege, there are certain standards of behavior we expect them to uphold," she told the TV station. "Our position stands for respect. We're just hoping kids appreciate
the seriousness of any communication over the Internet."

I'm hoping the courts force Niehoff to realize that this student has rights to an opinion. Unless her communication is disruptive to the educational process (nope), made on school grounds (nope), or created using school resources (nope), then it should have been ignored.

(Of course, given the Roberts court's generally seedy approach to the First Amendment, who knows what they'll do? Ignore Tinker some more, probably.)

What Niehoff and the school's board have done is to hold themselves up to ridicule, divide their community, screw with a kid who was, from most accounts, a model student, and really annoy some of us who think free speech should apply to young and old.

I'm not going to call Niehoff or her superiors a "douchebag" -- it wasn't a term of art in my high school, and high school was so very long ago. But I will contend that this behavior makes her appear -- at least based on the serious communication over the Internet to which I have access -- to be a pedantic martinet with delusions of grandeur.

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