By Ian Millhiser on Nov 25, 2011 at 1:54 pm
In a blatant violation of the First Amendment, a public high school in Prairie Village, Kansas disciplined a student for speaking out against Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS):
Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, was in Topeka on Monday as part of Kansas Youth in Government, a program for students interested in politics and government.
During the session, in which Brownback addressed the group, Sullivan posted on her personal Twitter page: "Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot"
On Tuesday, Sullivan was called to her principal's office and told that the tweet had been flagged by someone on Brownback's staff and reported to organizers of the Youth in Government program. [...]
Sullivan said the principal ordered her to write letters of apology to Brownback, the school's Youth in Government sponsor, the district's social studies coordinator and others.
It's troubling that Brownback's staff is so thin skinned that they felt the need to call down the government's wrath on a high school student who had the audacity to criticize the governor. If nothing else, one would think a state governor's office has better things to do than troll the internet looking for young dissenting voices they can intimidate.
Moreover, there's no question that the high school principal violated Sullivan's First Amendment rights. Although public school students' right to free speech is not unlimited, schools are generally only allowed to discipline students for speech that is disruptive to the school's learning environment. It is difficult to imagine how a single tweet criticizing a controversial politician during a field trip could have disrupted this high school's ability to educate its students.
Moreover, because the school district violated Sullivan's clearly established federal constitutional rights, she is likely entitled to have the district or the principal pay her attorney's fees if she decides to bring a lawsuit challenging this unconstitutional disciplinary action. In other words, the district could be wise to settle this case immediately if Sullivan decides to bring them to court.
"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless
means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." -Paolo Friere-