Thursday, January 19, 2006
Tracy Warner on Punishment for Words
Tracy Warner's editorial published in the January 19th Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette:
All the facts are not publicly known, but what was revealed during a school board meeting Monday indicates that Northwest Allen County Schools administrators need a crash course in the First Amendment.
A 17-year-old Carroll High School student was first suspended, then expelled from school, apparently for the offense of writing and distributing a “book” – really just 14 pages of 8 1/2 -by-11-inch paper – that is satirically critical of Carroll and the school corporation. “Carroll (The Book)” in some ways parodies comedian Jon Stewart’s “America (The Book).” The Carroll book includes an occasional expletive and heavy amounts of criticism, but it is at times funny and perceptive.
School officials legally cannot comment on disciplinary actions involving specific students, but Superintendent Steve Yager strongly hinted that the student improperly used school technology in producing the book. “First Amendment rights are not applicable when the violations are committed on school computers,” he said.
If the student, who has been identified as Jeff Fraser, wrongly used school computers for a non-school-related project, then he deserves some form of punishment. But expulsion? Would he have been expelled if he had wrongly used the computer to draft fund-raising letters for a non-profit? Not likely.
The situation has all the appearances of a student being kicked out of a public school for expressing opinions school officials didn’t like. If so, his expulsion – in addition to being unconstitutional – sends a terrible message to other students. Perhaps Carroll instructors should include a caveat when teaching students about the Constitution: “This doesn’t apply to you.”
The real hero in this debate appears to be Sam Wysong, a 17-year old classmate of Fraser who appeared before the school board Monday night to question Fraser’s dismissal. Without Wysong’s articulate presentation, the public may not have learned of the expulsion.
Fortunately, the school board will review Fraser’s expulsion. Cooler heads should prevail. Unless there is something the public doesn’t know regarding unrelated disciplinary problems, Fraser should be readmitted to school – and NACS administrators should brush up on their American government.