Court Upholds Punishment of Teen Who Called School Administrators Names on Her Blog

It seems like there would never be a time when censorship is OK, but what about when someone is making rude and unproductive remarks about a school official?

I can’t live without my computer or BlackBerry, and if and when one or both ceases to work, I am necessarily paralyzed. However, it’s beyond a relief to me that neither existed when I was a kid (of course the Internet was around then, but only for Al Gore), as I have no doubt being online would have meant more trouble for me than I was always already in.

I kind of feel for the girl in Connecticut who called her school administrators “douchebags” on her blog and then got in trouble as a result, particularly since her punishment was just upheld by an appeals court. But on the other hand, it was a stupid thing to do and I think her generation should be learning faster than they are about what is and what is not appropriate online — no matter if it’s a posting on a personal blog or an email from a school account.

Avery Doninger, 20, sued her principal and school superintendent after they barred her from running for secretary of her senior high school class at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlinton, Conn., after she posted the insult online.

However, according to the New York Post, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said, “it was not unreasonable for (principal Karissa) Niehoff to conclude that Doninger, by posting an incendiary blog post in the midst of an ongoing school controversy, had demonstrated her unwillingness to properly carry out this role.”

Doninger was 16 when she launched into the dispute with her school administrators over a Jamfest battle-of-the-bands contest. Doninger urged readers of her blog to call or email the superintendent “to piss her off more.”

“To be clear, we do not conclude in any way that school administrators are immune from First Amendment scrutiny when they react to student speech by limiting students’ participation in extracurricular activities,” Judge Debra Ann Livingston wrote.

“Here, however…it was objectively reasonable for school officials to conclude that Doninger’s behavior was potentially disruptive of student government functions (such as the organization of Jamfest) and that Doninger was not free to engage in such behavior while serving as a class representative — a representative charged with working with these very same officials to carry out her responsibilities.”

Doninger is now a college student, and her lawyer said she is hopeful that she can appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“As cases are circulating around the country and these issues are arising, I think it’s important for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the extent to which school systems can censor and restrict student speech that happens off-campus and on the Internet,” he said.

I’m all for students taking up for causes bigger than themselves, but I think it’s nothing but a sign of immaturity to call school officials by rude names. Between things like Facebook and blogs, today’s youth (God, I’m old) keep finding ways to get themselves in trouble by doing things online that will continue to haunt them from years to come — personally, professionally and emotionally.

While it’s admirable (I guess) that Doninger continues to stand by her position, I think it’s time for her to realize that there was likely a more productive way to draw attention to her cause and figure out an amicable resolution. And she should just move on. I just don’t think we live in a world anymore where the boundaries of what happens at and away from school are so well-defined. It’s about time for everyone to learn the boundaries between are personal lives and everything else are seriously blurred, and there are consequences to our actions no matter where we conduct our business.

Do you think the court was right in upholding Doninger’s punishment?

Image: Creative Commons

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