Post posts about what is happening in the State of Connecticut.

Donna Hudson and Avery Donninger

Today, I received an email pointing me to a letter in the Waterbury Republican. I haven't seen the letter; I'm not sure if it is online. However, the email summarizes it and asks me for my thoughts. I thought I would publish them here.

In the Waterbury Republican today (11-10-07) is a letter to the editor on page 6A that makes a good point. It was written by Donna Hudson of Harwinton. She says that Avery D isn't in trouble for calling school administrators a foul name. Instead, she's in trouble for inciting a campaign to harass them and disrupt school. It further says the newspaper reporters failed to thoroughly research the incident. What do you think?

I replied:

Donna is partially right. I do believe that Avery was punished for encouraging parents to contact members of the school admininistration concerning the way facilities at the school are used. Most significantly, it was an embarrassment to Superintendent Schwartz who had already been criticized for the way the school administration was handling facitilities.

Yet to encourage citizens of a town to speak with the school administrators about how school facilities should be used should not be considered harassment and disruption, it should be considered civic duty.

Likewise, Donna is correct about newspaper reporters failing to thoroughly research the incident. If they had, they would be up in arms and writing good investigative reporting pieces in the local papers about the principal of the school, testifying under oath that she instructed school officials to place false information in students records.

If that was properly investigated and reported on, people would be wondering about what is in their children's records, and calling for a full investigation, possible criminal proceedings and the immediate removal of those involved.

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Tinkering with pedagogical interests

On November 1st, approximately 35 students at Morton West High School in Berwyn, IL staged a sit-in in the school cafeteria. Reports are that around 25 of the students locked arms and refused to move when they were ask to.

As I read stories about this, I can only wonder what Avery Doninger would have to say. Over the past several months, she has learned a lot about what sort of speech is allowed to students, in what locations, and under what conditions.

An article in the Chicago Suburban News uses the word ‘disrupt’ in one form or another half a dozen times to describe the protest. “Officials say their actions disrupted the educational process” the article reports.

The event took place in the school cafeteria, where so many important lessons are learned. The administrations reaction to the protest was to lock down the school and call in the police. One has to wonder if it was the students actions that were disrupting the educational process, or an over reaction by the administration that disrupted the educational process.

The article quotes Rita Maniotis, head of the PTO and parent of one of the protesters as saying, “We don’t want this to come to a lawsuit, but we don’t think it’s appropriate that these children be expelled.”

The article refers to a statement by Superintendent Nowakowski which says,

“Not only do students have a right to express themselves on matters of conscience but we encourage them to do so. In this instance, it is critical to note that the Morton administration did not say that the students could not protest. Rather, we asked that the students simply move their protest to an area of the school that would not disrupt the ability of the other 3,400 students at Morton West to proceed with their normal school day.”

Yet trying to make sure that students can proceed with their normal school day is substantially different with the standards about students’ freedom of speech concerning a substantial disruption of pedagogical intent and this will likely become a key part of this case as it proceeds to court.

Instead, the message that Superintendent Nowakowski seems to be promoting is that of ‘Freedom of Speech Zones”. Yes, students have the right to free speech, and he seems suggest that free speech shouldn’t circumscribed by whether it substantially disrupts the pedagogical intent, but whether or not it is convenient. It is a dangerous trend, runs counter to our history of embracing freedom of speech.

I do hope that Superintendent Nowakowski handles this case better than Superintendent Schwartz has handled Avery Doninger’s case. I look forward to visiting the Second Circuit of Appeals on Avery’s case, but I don’t think I can justify flights out to Chicago.

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For All the Saints

Yesterday, we went to church. The first reading of the day was from Ecclesiasticus. It is that wonderful section that begins, “Let us now sing the praises of famous men.” It talks about the great variety of famous men, leaders, musicians, writers, and others of home there is no memory. It is a great reading for the Sunday after All Saints Day; a reminder that we are all in this together, the rich and the forgotten.

It is also provided the title for James Agee and Walker Evans monumental book, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”. That book was written about poverty in the south during the Great Depression. Now, over seventy years later, we have others to now praise famous men.

John Edwards, as part of his “American Heroes Week” spent last Saturday with a bunch of supporters helping rebuild home in New Orleans. We still have poverty in our country, and Hurricane Katrina briefly blew away the façade that had been hiding it.

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Avery Update: On Why Schools Exist

This evening, I received an email containing the brief filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for the case of Lauren Doninger, P.P.A. as Guardian and Next Friend of Avery Doninger, a minor, Appellant v. Karissa Niehoff and Paula Schwartz, et al., Appellees.

If you are new to this site, I would encourage you to read my coverage in the Connecticut section of this blog. For those of you who like reading briefs, I would encourage you to read the brief filed by Martin Margulies and Daniel J. Krisch of the Center for First Amendment Rights as well as the brief filed by Jon L. Schoenhorn who will be arguing the case at the Second Circuit.

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"Democracy is a gift that Americans have inherited."

According to Quantcast, my readers are ‘primarily older’. Many of you many not remember your college own application essays and may be more concerned about college application essays of your children.

I must admit, I don’t remember my college application essay, and I suspect I would be embarrassed to read what I wrote thirty years ago. There is a standard sort of question that typically gets asked, “Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.” Perhaps this would be another good blog meme for people to explore.

When I was seventeen, I’m sure there were plenty of significant experiences I was all too willing to write about, experiences that in retrospect seem pretty insignificant.

How many of us wrote college application essays that we would be proud of thirty years later, that people would want to share and discuss? Recently, however, I had the opportunity to read a college application essay written this year by a seventeen year old, whom I believe will be rightly proud of her essay years to come. With her permission, I am posting it here. It is self-explanatory, but my regular readers should recognize the story almost immediately.

This year I have come to understand why liberty and justice are symbolized with scales. There is a lot to be balanced and decisions can weigh heavy. Since May 2007, a series of good and bad decisions, made by myself and others, has led me on a journey filled with risk and opportunities.

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