In Stolen Election
Freedom Of Information Report.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
AGENDA June 11, 2008 Regular Meeting 2 p.m.
1. Consideration of the minutes of the Commission’s regular meeting of May 28, 2008.
2. Consideration of the following Hearing Officers’ Reports:
Docket #FIC 2007-529 Troy Mozell v. Francisco Ortiz, Chief, Police Department, City of New Haven; and Police Department, City of New Haven
Docket #FIC 2007-418 Andy Thibault v. Paula Schwartz, Superintendent of Schools, Regional School District #10
Docket #FIC 2007-421 Andy Thibault v. Paula Schwartz, Superintendent of Schools, Regional School District #10
Docket #FIC 2007-458 Andy Thibault v. Paula Schwartz, Superintendent of Schools, Regional School District#10
Docket #FIC 2007-527 Patricia Young and Cecil Young v. Chairman, Ethics Commission, City of Bridgeport; and Ethics Commission, City of Bridgeport
Docket #FIC 2007-547 Paul Fuchs v. Timothy C. Griswold, First Selectman, Town of Old Lyme; Board of Selectmen, Town of Old Lyme; and Citizens Building Committee, Town of Old Lyme
Docket #FIC 2007-552 Paul Gallo v. Assessor, Town of Old Lyme
Agenda – Regular Meeting
June 11, 2008
Docket #FIC 2007-652 Renee Jackson v. Director, Legal Affairs, State of Connecticut, Office of Policy and Management; and State of Connecticut, Office of Policy and Management
Docket #FIC 2007-682 Reuben T. Spitz v. Commissioner, State of Connecticut, Department of Public Health, Board of Examiners of Psychologists; and State of Connecticut, Department of Public Health, Board of Examiners of Psychologists
4. Report from staff attorney on pending appeals.
5. Staff Reports.
7. New Business.
“None of this happened when I was here.”
Scales of Justice
By AVERY DONINGER
This year I have come to understand why liberty and justice are symbolized with scales. There is much to be balanced and decisions can weigh heavy. Since May 2007, a series of good and bad decisions, made not only by me, but also by others, has led me on a journey filled with risk and rich in learning opportunities.
The first decision that I made reflected positively on my character. I invested myself fully in student government and worked diligently in my elected positions. Frustrated over scheduling snags and short-notice cancellation of a school event (Jamfest), I went home and posted a blog on an obscure Live Journal page. In the blog I encouraged people to petition our administration -- a good decision; it was political speech. The bad decision was the opening line, "Jamfest is cancelled due to the douchebags in central office." Not my finest moment.
Along with other student leaders I rallied community support for Jamfest and the event was rescheduled. However, my decision to use an unsavory term was still sitting out there on the scales of justice, waiting to be weighed. A month after the scheduling was resolved, an administrator stumbled across my blog. Consequently, the principal punished me. She said I had to apologize to the superintendent, tell my mother, step down from all leadership positions, and withdraw my candidacy for secretary of the Class of 2008 (I had been secretary for three years). This was when the lessons from my civics class became increasingly relevant to my life. I agreed to the principal's first two requirements, but I refused the third.
The school administrator's had their own scales of justice -- my opinion did not tip the balance, and the punishment was final. Efforts to negotiate with the administrators were refused. A write-in campaign by my peers (I won a plurality of votes) was ignored; and "Team Avery, Support LSM Freedom of Speech" t-shirts were confiscated (illegal according to Tinker). As I researched civil rights and school law, my scale tipped, and I filed a lawsuit. This was a hard decision; I've never been in trouble: I am an engaged student, yet I did use an unsavory word. My mother also put my word choice on her scale of justice. She found my comment rude, sophomoric, and below the standards she has set. My mother's verdict, as one commentator put it, "Avery, you're grounded and we're going to the Supreme Court" (Colin McEnroe, October 2, 2007, WTIC am 1080).
At age 16 I became a citizen fully engaged in the democratic process. I filed for injunctive relief: not suing for money but for justice. I testified for four hours in federal court; I have done tons of print and broadcast interviews; I have spoken to large audiences about my story and the First Amendment rights; and I was the poster child for Poets and Writers for Free Speech. I have learned the big cases decided by the Supreme Court as well as how my case is distinguished. Most important, however, are the lessons that have become apart of me.
I believe in democracy. I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I believe that each citizen is responsible for participating in the maintenance of democracy by challenging government officials when they overreach. The principal accused me of a failing to be a good citizen. I disagree. Apathy and passivity are poor citizenship. Rallying students and the community to petition the government is good citizenship. I failed at vocabulary, not citizenship. However, the First Amendment does not limit protection to those with sophisticated vocabularies (though I will not make the error of rudeness again).
Democracy is a gift that Americans have inherited, but it requires maintenance and vigilance. Democracy needs to be retained at the lowest levels if we are to have a democracy at the highest levels. If as citizens we refuse to defend liberty in our own backyards, how do we expect to bring democracy to Iraq or Korea or any place suffering under tyranny? Civil liberties are eroded slowly when citizens don't bother to insist on challenging unconstitutional practices. Citizens, particularly students who are the next generation of leaders, must be willing to take on the responsibility of maintaining and protecting democracy while enjoying the rights democracy affords.
Eventually, the scales of justice will determine whether students have speech rights off campus in the age of the Internet and whether there is a difference between shouldn't have said and didn't have the right to say. No matter the outcome in court, I am proud that I was willing to engage in the democratic and judicial processes. I will continue to defend civil rights, to think critically, and to consider the ramifications of my word choices. While I don't plan to live my life according to bumper stickers, I am going to think globally and act locally.
Following is a Readers Digest version of the Doninger case:
Avery Doninger, a senior at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, CT, has a civil rights trial pending in New Haven U.S. District Court. 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.
New Haven U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz denied a motion for a preliminary injunction [immediate relief] last fall and his ruling was appealed to the Second Circuit in New York. That appeal ruling was posted May 29.
Register Citizen: Region 10 Must Come Clean On Legal Bills