Avery Doninger. Defend free speech in high school

High school student Avery Doninger and others committed the crime of getting public support for a battle of the bands at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, CT. The school superintendent, Paula Schwartz, went bonkers and canceled the event.

Avery blogged about this, calling the school officials “douche bags.” She was banned for running for school office, ran anyway, won on a write-in vote, and then was disqualified. This after she apologized. (Another student who called the admin a “dirty whore” was given an award and lauded for citizenship. Sure sounds like selective prosecution to me.)

What is it about high school administrators anyway? There’s been too much repression of speech and liberty by these apparent freedom-haters who refuse to understand that what a student does on their own time is their own business. And that there is something called “free speech” guaranteed by the Constitution that is not revoked once a student walks through the doors of the prison school to be superseded by whatever the petty tyrant in charge decides that day.

Andy Thibault of Cool Justice Report has been helping in the fight and is co-chairing a fund raiser with “10 poets and writers reading from their works in a celebration honoring free speech freedom fighter Avery Doninger” on Sunday, Oct. 14, 1 pm at The Bistro East, Litchfield Inn, Litchfield CT. There will also be four bands and probable special guests.

The Doningers are seeking — among other remedies — an apology for civil rights violations, recognition of the write-in victory and sharing of the secretary position with the administration-backed candidate.

Full details on his blog, The Cool Justice Report, where you can also make contributions.

  • DJ

    “To every action there is a equal and opposite reaction.” –Newton

    In 10th grade, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek paper for an English class considering how the “Communist Manifesto” (which I was required to read in history class) might be applied to our school. It was, appropriately, given a C- and ignored.

    While the civil rights embodied in the Constitution do apply to children in the U.S., one fundamental problem remains: rights cannot exist without the responsibility not to abuse those rights, and most high school students children today (or even in my days in high school) have not learned much of responsibility. We are now wealthy enough as a nation that children (and even some adults) are generally shielded from the fact that actions have consequences.

    When I was 15 years old, I considered myself a responsible adult. My actions then (and for some years afterward) suggest otherwise. Today I see how necessary responsibility is. And while calling someone a “douche bag” or a “dirty whore” may be protected by the Constitution, it is not an act without consequences. It is certain to affect one’s reputation at the very least. In some neighborhoods, it’ll get you shot. Which is to say that the consequences may not be legal, but they are real nonetheless.

  • Lauren Doninger

    UG – sorry … thought I would get a final proof screen before an actual post. Perhaps you will delete the first post. Thanks.


    I don’t disagree with you – rights do exist with responsiblity and many are sheilded from the consequences of actions. I have never made the assertion that Avery’s choice of language was admirable – I expect more of her (and, just to be clear – Avery did not make the dirty whore comment, that was another student who received an award and was lauded for citizenship just as Avery was feeling the brunt of the over reaching punishment). The issue is an overzealous government office. Avery made her comment at home and never brought it to school. The punishment was my responsibility and was one I was fully capable and ready to manage appropriate discipline. So issue one in this lawsuit, for me, is setting clear limits with the school invading our home and usurping my parental rights.

    Next, again I agree with you about the language – but context is very important. Avery’s comment was in a blog entry that was fully political in nature – she was criticizing the governmnet – the type of free speech afforded the highest level of protection. She was encouraging tax payers to contact highly paid public officials to support a public event being held in a tax funded facility. Had Avery started the blog, “So jamfest is cancelled due to the olagarchs in central office….then went on to say….although these public officials are annoyed by contact from constituents…I suggest you contact them anyway, as they are being paid 6 figure salaries to be responsive to our community,” she wouldn’t have been punished.

    The First Amendment does not limit protection to those with a well honed vocabulary and artful prose. Everyone’s poltical ideas and right to petition are equal. In 1964 Justice William Brennan said, “Debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open…it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” I agree with Brennan. Though, I do not disagree that a 16 year old who uses rude speech should be called to task – I have and will continue to do that. It’s my responsibilty as her mother.

    PS – love the photo of Bryce!

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