Thursday, August 23, 2007

"We Don't Normally Do That ...

"We Are Working
On The Advice Of Counsel"

"You Need To Be Respectful
Or Your Votes Won't Count"

Special Measures
To Punish Certain Students
At Lewis Mills High School

Free-speech case continues

The Bristol Press

NEW HAVEN - Testimony by Lewis Mills High School guidance office secretary Sandra Bilodeau in U.S. District Court Thursday reinforced attorney John Schoenhorn's claim that school officials "falsified or tampered with" disciplinary records against Burlington teenager Avery Doninger.

Schoenhorn, Doninger's attorney, is seeking a temporary injunction to overturn the May 25 senior-class officer election results of Lewis Mills High School on the grounds that school officials unconstitutionally prohibited Doninger from running as class secretary.

The defendants, Region 10 Superintendent Paula Schwartz and Lewis Mills High School Principal Karissa Niehoff, alleg-edly "administratively removed" Doninger as junior class secretary on May 17, denied her from delivering a speech and repressed information that Doninger won the election via write-in on the ballots of the May 25 election.
The debated punishment followed a remark Doninger posted on 'Live Journal' from her home computer, in which she said the student council's band "Jamfest" had been cancelled by "the douche bags in central office."

The school district's insurance carrier, Massamont Insurance, hired attorneys Thomas Gerarde and Katherine Rule of Howd &Ludorf to represent Schwartz and Niehoff. School board attorney Christine Chinni also serves as defense co-counsel.

During testimony on Wednesday, Schoenhorn displayed an alleged backdated disciplinary log against Doninger, dated April 24, charging inappropriate use of school computers. The entry was made by Assistant Principal Peter Bogan and stated the consequence/action was a follow-up conversation on the 24th between the principal and Doninger regarding appropriate communication strategies for resolution of conflict and responsibilities of class officers and representatives of the students. The reprimand referred to a mass e-mail composed and sent on the morning of April 24, by student council representatives Tim Farmer, Jacqueline Evans, Pat Abate and Doninger, appealing to parents and taxpayers to call the school's central office to support Jamfest.

On Wednesday, Abate and Evans testified that Schwartz and Niehoff summoned the four students to the office for a meeting on the morning of the 25th. No one from the administration approached either of them on the 24th, both students testified.

Evans' mother testified Thursday that there was a similar reprimand in her daughter's school file.

When called to the stand, Bilodeau testified that Niehoff instructed her to put the disciplinary log entry dated April 24 into Doninger's guidance file on June 5th at the advice of legal counsel. Entering a log entry into a guidance file is not normal practice, she said, so she questioned Niehoff as to whether it was proper.

"I asked [Niehoff] if she was sure I should put it in the file because we don't normally do that. She said, 'We are working on the advice of counsel,'" Bilodeau testified.
The print date on the reprimand is June 5, and Bilodeau testified that she was told to put it in Doninger's file the same day because the student's mother was coming to the school to look over her daughter's files. She testified that Schwartz instructed her to remove it from the file on Monday.

Schoenhorn asked Bilodeau if she received the subpoena to testify before or after she was instructed to remove the document from Doninger's guidance file.

"Before," she replied.

Doninger also took the stand Thursday and testified regarding Niehoff's comments about T-shirts that read, "Team Avery, LMS students support free speech," and the principal allegedly banning the students from wearing the shirts inside the auditorium on election day.

"[Niehoff] said absolutely not. Those T-shirts are not going in there," Doninger testified.

During the election day assembly, before candidates gave their speeches, a small group of students started to chant, "Vote for Avery," she testified. "Ms. Niehoff said,

'Everyone be quiet. You need to be respectful or your votes won't count.'"

Doninger is expected to finish her testimony today.

The defense is expected to begin calling its witnesses thereafter.

U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz, who is presiding over the case, said if Gerarde and Schoenhorn don't move the hearing along, it may have to be continued until the first week of September.

"I have a lot of questions about the cases [Gerarde and Schoenhorn] have cited,' Kravitz said. "I have a real lot of questions about remedy, frankly, that you both might want to begin considering."

1 comment:

Sandy DeAngelis said...

Thanks for all your efforts. I hear many familiar elements from my experience with Mills administrators. One of the happiest days of my life was when our son graduated and we were free of their tyranny.