I like kids and I like the First Amendment. When I heard that Avery Doninger, a senior at Lewis S. Mills High School, had been punished for posting something critical (she called the central office administration "douchebags") on her MySpace page, I got interested in her case. Controlling kids' speech in school is one thing, though more limited than it should be. Controlling it outside of school is another thing altogether. This is a case of constitutional proportions.
The punishment handed down by the school was even more problematic:
Background On The Famous Douche Bag Case
The school system that banned Avery Doninger from running for office and suppressed the write-in vote electing her as 2008 Class Secretary of Lewis Mills High School in Burlington had some explaining to do on Jan. 4.
Three complaints were consolidated for a state Freedom of Information Commission hearing held at 11:30 a.m., Friday, Jan. 4, at 18-20 Trinity St., Hartford. A decision could take weeks or months.
The FOI complaints center on the suppression of the write-in vote, the failure to produce ballots promptly as required by the FOI law, and the failure to produce numerous other records including details of legal bills incurred by taxpayers.
Following is a Readers Digest version of the case:
Avery Doninger, a senior at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, CT, has civil rights actions pending in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City and U.S. District Court in New Haven. She and her mother, Lauren Doninger, sued Principal Karissa Niehoff and Superintendent Paula Schwartz after they removed Avery from the ballot for Class of 2008 secretary.
Avery Doninger was among a group of four students who lobbied the community for support of an annual battle of the bands sponsored by the Student Council. The student council adviser suggested the students reach out to taxpayers and the students copied the adviser an on email to the community.
Schwartz became very upset after taxpayers called her and she cancelled the event known as Jamfest. Doninger subsequently referred to administrators in a live journal blog as central office douche bags, and Schwartz's son found the posting while trolling the internet for his mother a couple weeks later. While Avery Doninger was banned from school office, another student who called Schwartz a dirty whore was given an award and lauded for citizenship.
School officials suppressed the write-in vote in which Doninger was elected by a plurality. Schwartz refused to accept Doninger's apology for her choice of words. During an assembly, Niehoff banned free-speech and Team Avery t-shirts and seized at least one shirt.
The Doningers are seeking -- among other remedies -- an apology for civil rights violations, recognition of the write-in victory and sharing of the secretary position with the administration-backed candidate.
U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz denied a motion for a preliminary injunction [immediate relief] and his ruling is being appealed to the Second Circuit. A hearing was expected to take place in January in New York City.
The FOI hearing scheduled for Jan. 4 had been postponed twice: from Dec. 6, so Schwartz could vacation in Aruba during her last month on the job; and on Dec. 13 because of snow.