Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ruling "You Would Expect In A Police State"

Waterbury Paper
Notes Planned Appeal
In Burlington Free Speech Case

Mom defends daughter's right to blog speech

Waterbury Republican-American
Sept. 5, 2007

NEW HAVEN -- Poised, intelligent and articulate as she may be, 17-year-old senior Avery Doninger was outside her legal bounds when she used derogatory language to describe administrators at Lewis S. Mills High School, a federal judge has found.

U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz's precedent-setting decision Friday to uphold the school administration's decision to punish Doninger for a blog entry she made outside of school in April chips away at First Amendment rights, her mother Lauren and her attorney Jon L. Schoenhorn said.

They say the implications of the violation of her freedom of speech are far reaching, and agree with Kravitz's suggestion that the matter could be one for the U.S Supreme Court to decide.

"We will appeal," said Lauren Doninger of Burlington, who filed a civil suit against the school in July. "It is a tremendously dangerous precedent. She is a good kid who didn't threaten, or cause a disruption. This is all about language, and it means that anything said or written outside of school can be censored."

Avery Doninger, who returned to enter her senior year Tuesday, criticized administrators including Superintendent Paula Schwartz and High School Principal Karissa Niehoff for a perceived effort to cancel a scheduled battle of bands contest on campus in the spring. She attributed problems as "due to the douchebags at central office."

As punishment, school officials at the 2,843-student kindergarten through 12 school district covering Burlington and Harwinton prohibited Doninger from running for class secretary for a year, a position she had held since her freshman year. Despite the ruling, Doninger would have won her seat back this year because so many students voted for her as a write-in candidate. The school ignored the write-in support, a decision her supporters claim violated their right of free choice. Students were prohibited from wearing T-shirts emblazoned with "Team Avery."

Lauren Doninger was critical of her daughter's "unimpressive" language in cyberspace, which she chalked up to a learning curve. She contends it has nothing to do with her daughter's right to criticize.

"Punishment is up to me," said Doninger, who insisted that her daughter write a letter of apology. "This erodes the training ground for the democratic process, which must be that you have to distrust democracy occasionally in order to make it work. The embedded lesson of democracy at Lewis S. Mills is hollow. Theirs is an overreaching power to orchestrate."

The school assumed a parent's right to discipline it doesn't have, she said. In one of several interviews given in the wake of Friday's preliminary ruling at U.S. District Court in New Haven, Doninger was praised by a radio commentator as the mother who told her daughter "you're grounded, and we're going to federal court to file a civil suit."

The central legal issue, Schoenhorn said, is whether First Amendment rights should be left at a school's gates. He points to Kravitz's decision, which states Avery's blog entry may be considered an on-campus speech for the purposes of the First Amendment. While other court rulings have allowed school officials to censor obscene content from school newspapers, and to take action against threats made on Internet postings, students' rights to protest have historically been upheld, he said.

"The content of the blog was related to school issues, and it was reasonably foreseeable that other LMHS students would view the blog and that school administrators would become aware of it," the judge wrote in a decision he released an hour after four days of testimony ended.

"The school shouldn't be able to reach out into your public comments outside of school," Schoenhorn said. "It's the kind of rule you would expect in a police state, the idea that anything you say anywhere can be used against you no matter where you are. It creates enormous self-sensorship."

NOTE: The paper's print edition cites school board lawyer Christine Chinni's rate of $220 per hour and her associate's rate of $180 per hour. The paper also reports, "Chinni wouldn't say what the tally is to date."

  • Illustration: Home Of The Douche Bag School Bosses

  • Colin Hosts Atty. Jon Schoenhorn, Lauren Doninger

  • Justice Denied: A View From New York

  • How Paula Schwartz Shows Good Faith, Clean Hands


  • Doninger Second Circuit Appeal Fund

  • Aldon Hynes Roundup ... Team Avery @ Facebook

    Anonymous said...

    September 10, 2007
    MEETINGS BEGIN: 7:30 pm
    Lewis S. Mills HIGH SCHOOL.


    If you care about how much your property taxes are and want to see how they are being spent by your elected officials.


    How much has the Board of Education paid in legal fees for this case?

    How much more is it willing to spend on this case?

    How much will the Board spend if the ACLU gets involved?

    Does the Board think that Ken Starr (yes that Ken Starr)
    Will represent the Board for free as he did in the Alaska Case?

    Will retired employees that have to testified be reimbursed for expenses and time if they have to testify?

    Will the school board recommend that extra curricular activities be on a "Pay to play" basis (which the Tolland School System may do)
    as a solution to financing legal fees to continue this case
    or will a property tax increase be the answer.

    See what answers you get and you may get a much better idea what to do this November.


    Anonymous said...

    As I watch my kids go through the public school system, I am constantly amazed how the administrators have become fascists. There is a no tolerance policy for drugs, alcohol and now free speech. There is little tolerance for dissent.

    I tell my kids that the people implementing these policies were probably the biggest degenerates around 30 years ago. They had long hair, smoked pot, and specialized in contracting esoteric venereal diseases. Larry Craig epitomies this type of so-called public servant.

    The only solution is vouchers in my opinion. The only thing that scares this people is the unemployment line and the thought of actually having to do productive work.

    Joe Bentivegna

    Anonymous said...

    If these "students" spent more time simply learning in high school and not protesting then there would be no need for any of this litigation.

    It seems apparent that if a federal judge sees no wrong here then the case should be dismissed!

    We need to go back to the times of President Hoover. Less belligerence to the government and more service to the country.

    There was a time when "children" were to be seen and not heard!!