This evening, there is a “back to school” fundraiser for the West Hartford, CT Democratic Board of Education candidates.
When is the last time you helped with a Board of Education campaign, or attended a Board of Education meeting in your area? Unless you are very involved politically, or live in an area where the Board of Education is arguing whether science can be taught in school, the odds are, you haven’t paid a lot of attention to what is going on in your Board of Education.
Yet Board of Education Elections can matter a lot. On the simplest level it is a great way for people to get involved with their communities and with politics. People often start off on Boards of Education before moving on to higher offices.
Today, I set up a Facebook group, Team Avery to get more people informed about Avery’s case, and hopefully to get more people to contribute to the Defend Free Speech site. If you’re on Facebook, please join the group and get your friends to join.
One person wrote,
Agh. This is infuriating. Yet another example of how not to win hearts and minds. Take away Free Speech to protect it -- how Orwellian.
I'm teaching my grade school kids tonight how to spell the word "douchebag", and the appropriate usage, along with how to tell someone to "piss off". And then I'm going to give them a writing assignment using those words. You go, Avery.
On WTIC, a local talk radio station, Lauren Doninger, Avery’s mother, spoke with Colin McEnroe. I missed the beginning of it, but I did hear her talk about the importance of the case, pointing out that “Rights get eroded slowly at the local level.” Colin ended the call noting, “That’s Lauren Doninger, she’s a good mom.”
Rick Green at The Hartford Courant writes a good analysis of the Avery Doninger case entitled, Ruling On Blog Rant Troubling.
These days, the vulgarities are found in IMs, e-mails, voice mails and blog postings that bounce around cyberspace, a realm that extends far beyond the classroom.
And now it may well be the government's business what your kid writes in some out-of-the-way blog, even if it's done in your home.
Scott H. Greenfeld, Esq. has a long, well thought out post about the case at Simple Justice: Student Speech Slides Further Downhill. It is hard to pick out the best quote from his entry, there are so many of them. Please, stop by and read his whole post. For a quote that gives you a good flavor of it:
Avery used the weapons that all true Americans should use, the power of thought and ideas as disseminated through word and deed. We don't have to like her choice of words, but we can't dismiss them because we would have preferred other words.
Norm Pattis at Crime and Federalism touches on the broader issues in Blogger Beware.
In it, he writes,
In the meantime, the Doninger case raises interesting questions. If a lawyer, for example, criticizes a judge on a blog page, and even calls for his resignation, as was done here recently, is the lawyer subject to discipline?
I will continue to cover this as the case continues and I would encourage everyone to do what they can to help cover the costs of defending freedom of speech. If you have a blog, please consider adding the fundraising widget.
Lauren Doninger forwarded an email to me from Greg who writes for Rhymes with Right. He has a brilliant blog post up, Shocking Decision In Douchbag Case. He and I may not agree on many issues. Yet our freedom to disagree and to argue our points of view are an important part of what makes our country great and strong. It is part of the reason the Doninger Case is so important.
With that, it appears as if the case is now headed to the Second Circuit. These sort of appeals cost money. If you can contribute, please click on the widget in the right hand column or go to Avery Doninger Appeal to 2nd Circuit. Please contribute whatever you can.
I was very interested to read the article in the Hartford Courant concerning the decision in the pretrial hearing of the Doninger case. The article is somewhat inaccurate and needs correcting. More significantly, the discussion in the forum is woefully laden with assertions based on misinformation.
The second paragraph leads off, “school officials were within their rights when they punished her for the comment as if she had made it on campus, a federal judge ruled Friday”. The problem is, that isn’t what the judge ruled. The rushed pretrial hearing, without any period for discovery, was to allow Avery Doninger to stand for re-election as class secretary, a position she won the plurality of votes as write-ins, but was not certified the winner because the school administration was upset about her blog post.
Judge Kravitz noted that there is a very high standard for providing a pretrial injunction that would change the status quo, and there did not appear to be enough evidence in his mind, to require such a pretrial injunction. The reason to seek a pretrial injunction, as opposed to waiting for the results of the full trial is that the full trial could take many months, or even years, and not be completed by the time Avery graduates from high school. It is noteworthy that Judge Kravitz often commented from the bench about this case being likely to find its way to the Supreme Court. Such a process could take several years.
So, school officials were not within their rights. Instead, enough evidence was not shown during a pretrial hearing to prove that they taken away Avery’s rights.
Now, on to the comments. Several parents have criticized Avery’s mother for not punishing Avery, or teaching her to admit when she is wrong. The problem with there assertions is that they don’t know the facts. Avery’s mother did punish her, in what I believe was an appropriate manner. Yet Avery’s mother also stood up for the basic freedoms that we have, even in a case where the speech was not something she approved of. This is laudable. It reminds me of when the ACLU stood up for the Nazi’s right to demonstrate in Illinois. Sometimes defending our basic freedoms means defending actions based on those freedoms we do not completely agree with.
An important issue is, who has the right to punish high school students for something they have done at home? Is it appropriate for the school administration to punish a student for something she has done at home, or should that be the responsibility of the parents. Personally, I believe that should be the responsibility of the parents. Avery’s mother acted responsible, and the school administrators’ actions overreached their responsibilities in a manner that is damaging to our country.
Another key issue is determining what speech is acceptable. As I’ve noted elsewhere, whether or not specific language is offensive is a question of context. Personally, I think many of the comments on the forum are offensive. It is not appropriate to be calling judges idiots because you disagree with their opinions. I watched Judge Kravitiz in the court. I disagree with his ruling, but he made many brilliant comments from the bench and illustrated a great depth of knowledge and understanding throughout the trial. To call the child a punk is offensive and inaccurate. The judge repeatedly noted that Avery is a model citizen. To call the mother a nut-case is likewise offensive and inaccurate. Mrs. Doninger demonstrated throughout the process a commitment to education, to our democratic processes, and to our basic rights that is sorely lacking in our country today.
A key issue in Freedom of Speech cases is whether of not an action will have a chilling effect on people’s freedom of speech. The response from a reader in Cheshire illustrates quite nicely this chilling effect:
I'm teaching my son to keep his mouth shut and opinions to himself so he can graduate from school without aggravation. Then when he's 18 he has the freedom to callout all the douchbags.
One of the interesting aspects is the call by Avery, as well as by other students, to have parents contact the school about the schools decision concerning a school event. During the trial the school administration tried to argue that speaking with parents was a disruption. There are some people in the thread that also seem to believe that school administrators should not speak with parents about school events. This is truly unfortunate. We need to encourage parental involvement, not discourage it.
I have written a lot on this case. I believe that there has been a wonderful teaching moment on the importance of free speech, on the importance of our democratic processes, and on the importance of civility in discourse. From what I have seen, Avery’s mother has fought hard to make sure that these lessons are learned, and the school administration has focused on wounded pride instead of trying to teach their students. For the sake of the Doninger’s I wish this were over. Yet for the sake of all of us learning more about our country, I’m glad it continues, and may in fact make it to the Supreme Court.
This is too important an issue to write quick statements that reflect a lack of understanding of the issues.