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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Of Free Speech And Undeserved Punishment

What is it with teacher / student relations that makes the teacher in question feel that he / she can potentially damage the educational record of a student on what amounts to nothing more than a whim?

The lawsuit, filed Monday in a Florida federal court, concerns Katherine Evans, now 19, who was suspended as a senior last year after creating a Facebook group devoted to her English teacher. The group was called "Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I've ever met!," and featured a photograph of the teacher, and an invitation for other students to "express your feelings of hatred."

After people's comments derided Evans for the online stunt, and expressed support for the teacher, she deleted the group. But Pembroke Pines Charter High School, which did not respond for comment, suspended Evans for three days for "disruptive behavior" and for "Bullying / Cyber Bullying Harassment towards a staff member," according to the lawsuit, which is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Evans was removed from her from advanced placement classes "and forced her into the lesser-weighted honors classes." The lawsuit alleges the black mark on Evans' permanent record is "unjustifiably straining her academic reputation and good standing."

More here

What bothers me most about this is that the school seemed all too willing to go along with the suspension of a student that was doing nothing more than expressing her opinion of a teacher.

As a student who has had to sit in Ms Phelps' class has a unique perspective and a right to discuss if this teacher is being effective in the classroom or not. Due to the fact that the Facebook page has been deleted ( is there a cached version? ) it is difficult to discern whether or not Katherine Evans' rhetoric could be seen as threatening.

The broader implication is this - where is the seperation between protected and non-protected speech of a student? Why did her punishment also include her removal from Advanced Placement classes?

This seems more like a case of an angry teacher that blatantly abused the power given to her.

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