Teen Appealing Web Blog Free Speech Decision

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A high school senior who used vulgar language in reference to her school administrators is appealing the decision of a lower federal court and fighting for her right to serve as class secretary and to speak at her graduation in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Avery Doninger, 17, was barred from running for class secretary by Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, Conn. because administrators she had written in her personal blog that officials were “douchebags” because she thought they cancelling an event she had helped plan. She also called for others to take action against Superintendent Paula Schwartz and to “piss her off more” by writing and calling Schwartz. Officials discovered the blog two weeks after she had written and the teen was told to apologize to Schwartz, show her mother the blog and was told she could not run again for re-election as class secretary. Doninger won the position by write-in votes, but was not permitted to serve.

U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz had said that because Doninger’s blog was addressing school issues and because it was read by other students, she could be punished by the school. However, in the appeal, Doninger’s attorney argued that schools should not be able to regulate what is done on the internet if it does not create a risk of disruption and because it did not take place on school grounds or during a school activity.

"It's just a bigger soapbox," her attorney, Jon L. Schoenhorn, told the Hartford Courant.

According to the Hartford Courant, Thomas R. Gerarde, the school’s attorney, said that the Internet has increased the impact of their words by how many people they can reach and that if student leaders make offensive comments about the school on the Internet, the school should be able to punish them.

"We shouldn't be required to just swallow it," he said.

He also contended that the blog did cause school officials to receive numerous phone calls and emails and that some students had considered staging a sit-in.

However, the Harford Courant reported, Judge Sonia Sotomayor said that "pedagogical rights can't supersede the rights of students off campus to have First Amendment rights."

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