Avery Doninger, at the age of 16, wrote on her blog that her school’s administrators were “douchebags” because they were messing with an upcoming battle of the bands called Jamfest, and she urged her readers to bombard Superintendent Paula Schwartz with emails and calls “to piss her off more.” But Doninger’s punk spirit resulted in getting her barred from running for senior class secretary, and even though she won the election anyway as a write-in candidate, she wasn’t allowed to serve. Today, a Manhattan appeals court ruled against her, like a bunch of douchebags.
The New York Post reports that Doninger, now a 20-year-old college student doubtlessly busy with sex and marijuana, was also stopped at the time from wearing a “Team Avery” and “Support LSM Freedom of Speech” t-shirt.
The court ruled today that the “threat of disruption” granted the principal Karissa Niehoff “qualified immunity” for her over-the-top rules:
“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’s lawyer indicated that an appeal could be taken to the United States Supreme Court, which has since 1969 used the “Tinker test,” from Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), to decide whether a student’s First Amendment rights were violated by a United States public school.
The Court ruled then that school administrators “must be able to show that [their] action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.” It’s hard to imagine a 16-year-old’s blog — written on the internet and away from school — turning a battle of the bands into Altamont, so let’s hope this one goes all the way.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 25, 2011