Torrington, CT Register Citizen
Douche Bag School Bosses
Concocted Disruption Claim
Played Travesty Kravitz For A Fool
Unequal Application Of Punishment Cited
"the wrong party was punished"
No Trial Date Set Yet
On Suppression And Seizure
Of Free Speech T-Shirts
Doninger decision disappointing
The news in Monday’s Register Citizen that former Lewis Mills High School student Avery Doninger lost all but one of her legal motions was disappointing for me. Avery Doninger is a former student of mine, and she’s a hard working, idealistic, natural crusader type who even now is doing outreach work for the flood victims of Katrina. Back in April ’07 Avery said in her off campus blog, "So basically Jamfest is cancelled due to the douche bags in central office." As a consequence of that posting, Avery was subsequently barred from student office despite removing the blog entry, admitting her error, and apologizing in writing.
I do not know a school teacher in Region 10, and I taught there for 32 years, that agrees with that punishment (though I admittedly did not survey all). I’ve followed this case closely, read the prior judgments, read this one and the released emails, heard the voices from both sides, and, to be blunt, I believe the wrong party was punished. And I say that as one who always maintained and appreciated good classroom discipline and proper school-wide behavior.
In the opinion of many, the handling of this incident by Region 10 administrator Karissa Niehoff and former superintendent Paula Schwartz was heavy handed and harsh beyond any reasonable justification. I cannot begin to count the number of times students have used expletives or worse to my colleagues and me, sometimes with little or no punishment, and never, never, never with anything as severe as being barred from class office.
Avery Doninger should have been allowed to run for class secretary her senior year, pure and simple. This is not the 19th century and we are not in some Dickensian workhouse. Administrators missed a fine opportunity to teach Avery restraint and the tenets of good citizenship instead of the lesson they ultimately taught, i.e. might makes right.
Kravitz in his latest ruling said, "If courts and legal scholars cannot discern the contours of First Amendment protections for student internet speech, then it is certainly unreasonable to expect school administrators such as the Defendents (Niehoff and Schwartz) to predict where the line between on- and off-campus speech will be drawn in this new digital era." Kravitz is being too generous to the defendents. Knowing where to draw the line is not hard at all. If someone is sitting home typing something that doesn’t measurably impact the school/outside world then it is freedom of speech and must be left alone. And the school never was impacted to any Richter degree despite the defendents’ assertions to the contrary. I know, I was there.
School administrators like to say, It’s all about the students. I only wish they’d practiced it with Avery Doninger.
Following is a Readers Digest version of the Doninger case:
Avery Doninger, a volunteer in the Americorps national public service program, has a civil rights trial pending in New Haven U.S. District Court. [Among her duties on the job: helping hurricane victims in Texas.]
Avery, a 2008 graduate of Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, CT, and her mother, Lauren Doninger, sued Principal Karissa Niehoff and Superintendent Paula Schwartz [now retired] after they removed Avery from the ballot for class 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 have been seeking -- among other remedies -- an apology for civil rights violations and recognition of the write-in victory.
New Haven U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz denied a motion for a preliminary injunction [immediate relief] in August 2007. Based on errors in the record, Travesty Kravitz's injunction ruling was upheld by the U.S. Second Circuit in New York.
Travesty Kravitz held a hearing in November 2008 on Doninger's request for a trial. He cut off discussion about various frauds - including false testimony - upon the court and ultimately ordered a trial on Jan. 15, 2009. But, he limited the scope of the trial to the narrow issue of the suppression and seizure of free speech t-shirts.