This afternoon, Judge Kravitz heard the final testimony regarding a preliminary injunction in the Avery Doninger case. He stressed the preliminary aspects of this and that he was only ruling on the constitutional aspects. Testimony ended around 5 PM and his thirty four page opinion was available on the courts website about forty five minutes later. He has denied the Doninger's request for relief.
In the opening paragraph, he states that 'Just about everyone but Avery agrees that the manner in which Avery expressed her frustration was offensive and inappropriate.'
Everyone is very broad and I do not fall within his bounds of 'just about everyone'. He recognizes that what Avery wrote was on a personal blog, but fails to consider that context in his ruling.
He states 'it contained at best misleading and at worse false information regarding the music festival'. In this, he accepts the testimony of the principal despite its contradictions. My understanding from Avery's testimony is that her blog post contained information that she considered accurate.
The crux of Judge Kravitz' decision is that if a student, at home, writes on a blog using words that some members of the school administration consider offensive, inappropriate, or inaccurate, the school is within its bounds to punish the student. This overly broad ruling is damaging to democracy.
Our forefathers who recognized that civil discourse, even when it uses less than civil words, is a cornerstone of our democracy must be rolling in our graves.
During his final comments, he noted that this case is one that is likely to find its way to the Supreme Court. He has just moved it one step closer and an appeal appears likely.
Today, I received a comment on my blog post Democracy is Scary entitled, know the facts that I think deserves addressing in a full post.
The commentator asserts that I am not “accurately representing the facts”. The first assertion of the commenter is that “the taxpayers are not paying for the administrators representation”. This is based on an apparent misunderstanding concerning who is paying directly for the lead attorney. The lead attorney, Thomas Gerarde as well as Katherine Rule, both of Howd & Ludorf, are being paid by the insurance company, Massamont Insurance. This does not mean that the taxpayers are off the hook. My understanding is that there is a deductible and may be limits to the amounts that are covered as part of the insurance policy. In addition, there is no way of knowing if this case will cause in increase in the premiums in the coming years. On top of that attorney Christine Chinni is paid by the school board and not by the insurance company. She has been at the hearings everyday, as well as at the Board of Education meeting on Monday evening.
Beyond this, I do agree with the commenter that we need to know the facts. Andy Thibault has been doing yeoman’s work trying to help us get to the facts. You can read about his latest effort in Many Public Records Still Under Wraps Since Aug 1. Andy has been trying hard to get the facts, and the school administration has been less than forthcoming. I hope that the commenter contacts the school administration and the school board and encourages them to be more forthcoming about the facts.
The commenter also asserts that “nearly all Principals and Superintendents in the state earn the same salaries”. A brief check of the The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents list of Connecticut Superintendent vacancies shows Canterbury is currently looking for a superintendent in the range of $108,000-$118,000. Region 16 is looking for a superintendent in the range of $130,000-$145,000. I’ve been told that Superintendent Scwartz is being paid considerably about the Region 16 range. However, I have yet been able to get details, and this is another area where Andy Thibault is trying to get information from the school administration.
I should also note that while I did live in Stamford (not Stanford, as the commenter suggests), I have moved to Woodbridge. Woodbridge is also a wealthy area that has spent a lot of money on renovations and on legal fees. My father-in-law, a retired U.S. Treasury Agent was part of a committee that investigated these costs. It is my belief, in line with the suggestion that we need to know the facts, that investigating construction costs and legal costs are an important part of the checks and balances that we need and that are too often lacking with regard to school boards.
I have no objection to the new auditorium. As I’ve spoken with taxpayers and voters in Region 10, they have all noted that the auditorium was needed. I am glad that it was built. I just hope to see that the costs are properly tracked and that it gets the sort of utilization that it deserves.
Life continues to be hectic as Fiona starts school, as we try to settle into our new house, as I continue to search for a job, as I do research for blog posts on the Doninger case, as well as for other posts that I hope to write soon.
When Fiona signed the Parent/Legal Guardian Permissions 2007-2008 form, there was a section acknowledging that Fiona was aware of the rules from the BRS Handbook, which Fiona needed to sign. Because of similar such material being exhibits in the Doninger case, I thought I would scan it in for our records, and post it on Flickr. (Click on the link above).
As Fiona got on the bus, the loyal watchcat made sure everything was fine.
Also, I heard from Beth Kanter, who is in Cambodia right now for the Bloggers’ Summit. She post an entry about he First Video Cambodian Video Blogger in Cambodia. Please, check it out, and welcome Virak.
Last week, I wrote about the Avery Doninger case, that Democracy is Disruptive. It is also scary. What happens if people vote for someone you don’t want in office?
This isn’t a new thought. The history of our democracy is full of people concerned that democracy is mob rule or the dictatorship of the majority. Yet our national experiment with democracy has been, by and large, a great success. With the exception of the Civil War and social unrest at various times, our democracy has functioned pretty well.
Thomas Jefferson suggested that a key to addressing the concerns about mob rule and the dictatorship of the majority is to make sure that the voters are well educated. This is ties back to why the Avery Doninger case, taking place in our public schools, is so important.
The way the school administrations handle elections is an important example to students. How much do we trust democracy, and how much are we afraid of it. Beyond the issues of freedom of speech, I believe this is where the Lewis Mills administration particularly failed.
If you don’t like the results of an election, such as Avery winning a plurality of the votes, you don’t override the results. I’ve been told that part of the principal’s justification for her actions was citing an example of hypothetical candidate that would not have been allowed to run.
The school had been suffering a spate of vandalism; students purposefully clogging the toilets. The Principal said she wouldn’t allow such a student to run. In saying that, she exhibited a lack of faith in democracy and a lack of faith in her students. If she believed in democracy, she would encourage such a candidate to run. She would make sure that the information came out in debates ahead of the vote. My guess is that the students would not vote for such a candidate. However, if such a candidate were to be elected, it would be much better for them to be spending their time as part of the student government instead of vandalizing the school.
Not only is democracy scary, but it can also be expensive and time consuming. Both sides have spent a lot on legal fees. They have spent a lot of time on this. Other families are not as fortunate to have the resources to pursue this. Other school districts are not as fortunate to have the amount of funding to pay the high salaries of their administration, pay for such spectacular renovations of their auditorium, let alone spend the money on the litigation that is being spent.
This has been a scary and expensive lesson for everyone. Let us hope that the lessons get properly built into the curriculum so that everyone can come away with a greater appreciation of the democracy that makes our country stronger.
Today was Fiona’s first day of kindergarten. This was followed by another day of cleaning out the old house, so, I’ve been away from the computer all day. This was after being away all evening yesterday to attend the Region 10 Board of Education meeting. There are now over 1300 unread emails in my in box and lots of writing that I need to get done.
First and foremost, Avery is today’s hero of the day. If you haven’t checked out Beth and Rod’s A Hero A Day blog, you really should. They have lots of stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. For those of you who are visiting Orient Lodge as a result of Beth and Rod’s blog, you can find most of my coverage about the Avery Doninger case in the Connecticut section.
As to the Board of Ed meeting, I was hoping to put my comments up about it. Perhaps I will get to it tomorrow. Kevin Roberts of the Citizen Register reports Reg. 10 officials discuss free speech case costs. After attending the Board of Ed meeting, and then speaking with my father-in-law about investigations he did into a different Board of Ed, I think it is very important that local newspapers and bloggers do more to cover what is going on at Board of Education meetings, especially in those school districts where there is construction going on.
Andy Thibault, of Cool Justice stays on top of the information issues with FOI requests and complaints about Failure To Produce Billing & Insurance Records and Evaluations, Contracts, Paychecks, Expenses
So, that’s it for now. I need to return some phone calls, do some more writing, put up some posts, and then get to bed.