Friday, September 14, 2007

Wtby Paper Notes Poets & Writers For Avery Free Speech Bash

Writers to rally for student
Money being raised to aid Mills teen with suit

Sept. 14, 2007

LITCHFIELD — A band of famous writers and poets will read from their works to raise money for a teenager who’s suing her school over an alleged First Amendment violation.

The Oct. 14 event, “Poets and Writers for Avery: A Free Speech Festival,” was organized by Litchfield author Andy Thibault for [17]-year-old Avery Doninger of Burlington. It will be held that Sunday at 1 p.m. at The Bistro East at Litchfield Inn.

Scheduled to appear are a group of 10 of Thibault’s writer friends: Wally Lamb, Ravi Shankar, Amy Ma, Franz Douskey, Rand Cooper, Jon An­dersen, Ron Winter, Margot Schilpp, Oscar de Los Santos and Louis Colavecchio. [Five]local bands will perform.

Thibault said he didn’t know Doninger before media reports about the case, but said her decision to stand up to the school district inspired him.

“I believe in the Bill of Rights, and my friends do, too,” Thibault said Thursday. “That’s what we’re fighting for here.”

Doninger, a Lewis S. Mills High School [senior], sued Superintendent Paula Schwartz and Principal Karissa Niehoff this summer after they barred her from running for class secretary because she called administrators douchebags in an online blog entry in April.

Doninger claims they violated her First Amendment right to free speech by reprimanding her for the posting. The U.S. District Court in New Haven on Aug. 31 denied an injunction sought by Doninger that would have forced the district to redo last spring’s class election with Doninger included on the ballot. The court asserted that schools can punish students in scenarios like this as they see fit.

Doninger is appealing to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City, and Thibault said the hope is that the event in October will cover her legal fees.

Doninger is seeking from the school an apology for the civil rights violation and to be allowed to serve as co-class secretary with the student who won the spring election in which she was not allowed to participate.

“It’s awesome, I never expected so much support,” Doninger said.

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  • ---

    Thibault said they’re trying to raise $20,000 and that Doninger is helping to organize the event and will make an appearance at the fundraiser.

    Costs of the Oct. 14 event are being covered by Marilyn Nelson, the former Connecticut poet laureate; Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States” and “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress;” poet and poetry slam coach ElizabethThomas; poet and writer Susanne Davis; and Raj Patel, owner of The Business Center in Litchfield. Books will be sold by The Hickory Stick Bookshop of Washington Depot.

    Hours d’oeuvres, cheese and fruit will be served. There will be a cash bar. The suggested donation is $25 for adults and $10 or more for students.

    For information, contact Thibault at, or at (860) 690-0211, or at his Web site, a news blog at

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