censorship, contempt of principal, Dan Serrano, free speech, Gilbert AZ, Heather Patterson, Logan Jones, MAGA, Perry High School, political speech, Tinker v. DesMoines
Today’s education article, gentle readers, should fall into the “what the hell…?” category, but so-called educators are doing so many bizarre and blatantly unconstitutional things these days, “what the hell” really no longer applies. One should note that many inexplicable things educators do are done in good faith. I suppose that makes ignorant violation of the Constitution somewhat more understandable than someone that willfully violates it while knowing better, but the effect remains the same. Tyler O’Neil at PJ Media explains:
Last Friday [03-01-19], Perry High School in Gilbert, Ariz., suspended student Logan Jones after a security officer reprimanded her as she posed for photos in a ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) sweater while holding a pro-Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ flag. On Wednesday, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent a demand letter warning of legal action unless the school dropped the suspension. The school agreed to allow Jones to return to school that day but it refused to remove the suspension from her record.
‘Public schools have a duty to respect the legitimate free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them,’ Tyson Langhofer, ADF senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom, wrote in a statementThursday. ‘While it’s good that the school is allowing Logan to return to school, it isn’t acceptable that this unjust suspension will remain on her record.
ADF will not accept this state of affairs. ‘As we continue discussions with the school, we are also consulting with Logan and her mother to determine what our next steps will be if the school doesn’t do the right thing and remove the suspension,’ Langhofer added.
The seminal school free speech case was Tinker v. Des Moines (1969). In it, the Supreme Court noted that students do not abandon their rights “at the schoolhouse gate.” Justice Abe Fortas, speaking for the majority, wrote:
In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students… are possessed of fundamental rights, which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved. In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views.
In other words, schools may only restrict student’s freedom of speech when that speech is disruptive to the proper function of the school. The devil, as always, is in the details. What constitutes a material disruption of school? A Che Guevara t-shirt? Guevara was a communist murderer, a monster by any civilized standard, yet I’m unaware of any student disciplined, anywhere, for wearing such a shirt, nor would trying to discipline a student for that sort of speech be lawful. Suspending a student for a t-shirt featuring naked women? That would qualify because it takes no imagination to understand how disruptive it would be, or that a boy would wear it for just that purpose. But it is in trying to censor political speech that schools usually run afoul of the Constitution. Political speech in school enjoys—and deserves–the highest degree of protection, as long as it is politely, appropriately expressed. “Fuck Trump,” or “AOC sucks” t-shirts would obviously be inappropriate, as would other obscene speech, or speech advocating violence. A t-shirt bearing a Second Amendment theme, politely expressed, would not be inappropriate.
According to the demand letter, Jones and her friends had dressed in patriotic and USA-themed clothing for a ‘Party in the USA Day’ on Friday of Spirit Week.
‘Immediately after school was dismissed at 2:14 p.m., [Jones] and a few of her friends went to one of the outdoor common areas of campus to take pictures together before they went home,’ the letter reads. ‘This is a common practice for [Jones] and many other students and it happens virtually every day after school without any interference by school officials. Less than five minutes after they arrived, while [Jones] and her friend were taking a picture in their MAGA sweatshirts and holding a flag that said ‘Trump’ and ‘Make America Great Again,’ a School Resource Officer approached and ordered [Jones] and her friends to leave.’
Jones immediately obeyed and started packing up to leave. The officer took photos of her and her friends with his phone, began following her as she left campus, and then ordered her to give him her name. Jones asked why he needed her name, as she was complying with his order. At that point, the officer told her to speak with Vice Principal Heather Patterson.
We should always keep in mind, gentle readers, that in situations like this, we don’t have all of the relevant documents, but if we assume the demand letter is accurate, and I suspect it is, this is disturbing indeed. Apparently Jones and her friends were wearing their “USA-themed” clothing all day, and when the supposed violation took place, the school day was over. No classes were being disrupted, nor did the kids have the opportunity to disrupt school with the clothing no teacher apparently found disruptive throughout the day.
Why the SRO so much as spoke with Jones is a mystery, unless she and her friends were engaged in some conduct other than what might be alleged by the school. According to the demand letter, the school suspended Logan—for ten days!?—because she didn’t immediately give the officer her name? The order to speak with the VP sounds very much like a “contempt of cop” situation. Contempt of cop occurs when a badge-heavy cop is angered because his orders are not being obeyed as promptly as he demands. A violation of the law isn’t the issue for such cops; violation of their whims, or any perceived disrespect—real or imagined—is. It gets even better:
Jones called her mother and told her about the situation. Her mother said she would come to the school herself and told Jones not to speak with anyone until she arrived. At the office, Jones was again asked to give her name. She ‘politely replied that her mother was on her way to the office and that her mother had instructed her not to answer any questions until she arrived.
This would most likely have enraged the VP—contempt of principal. The demand letter doesn’t specify who asked Logan for her name at the office, but that’s essentially moot because she was identified within seconds of her mother’s arrival, only about ten minutes later.
Once the mother arrived, a brief discussion ensued between the mother, Principal Dan Serrano, Vice Principal Patterson, and the officer. Principal Serrano left, saying, ‘I am tired of hearing this. Logan Jones, you are suspended for 10 days. Get off of school property.’
Hearing what? That Logan was engaging in constitutionally protected speech, in accordance with a school activity, in a non-disruptive manner, after the end of the school day? Ten-day suspensions are reserved for the most serious offenses. In normal circumstances a ten-day suspension would be a last step before a semester or a year-long suspension. In the case of such suspensions, a student usually has to be a chronic disruptor or commit a significant criminal offense. Merely declining to identify oneself at a parent’s order for some 15-20 minutes does not remotely qualify for any suspension. Logan was not willfully refusing, she was doing as her mother told her.
The demand letter’s account also strongly suggests Serrano was angry, acting under the “contempt of principal” doctrine as well. We don’t know if Logan’s mother was being calm, cool and collected, or was angrily berating the principals, but even if she were, that’s not justification for suspending Logan. It might be that neither principal has the temperament necessary to deal with teenagers or the public. The point is simple: refusing, for a few minutes, at her mother’s request, to give her name is not grounds for a suspension of any length. The demand letter picked up this theme:
‘Contrary to the stated reason, there is ample evidence to establish that you imposed the suspension against [Jones] based on a disagreement with the viewpoint of [Jones’s] message,’ the letter states. ‘Multiple videos demonstrate the hostility that School officials displayed towards the messages expressing support for President Trump and his MAGA slogan. And it is our understanding that other students have been punished as well for expressing similar viewpoints.’
‘This blatant censorship of [Jones’s] speech violates the First Amendment,’ the letter declares.
If this is the case, and it seems to be, this is indeed a blatant First Amendment violation. tTe continuing problem is the school is refusing to remove what ended up being a 3-day suspension from Logan’s record. The Arizona Daily Independent notes others are upset as well:
Last week, 27 members of the House Republican Caucus signed a letter asking Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate possible free speech violations at the high school.
‘Given that the free speech of all U.S. citizens is guaranteed in the First Amendment to the United State Constitution, we ask that you, as the state’s chief legal officer, examine the facts of this case to ensure that the rights of these students were not infringed upon,’ the Republican House members stated in the letter.
In a press release, Alliance Defending Freedom [related article here ] noted that the refusal to remove the suspension is a ‘problem likely to prolong the controversy.’
‘Public schools have a duty to respect the legitimate free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them,’ said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.
‘While it’s good that the school is allowing Logan to return to school, it isn’t acceptable that this unjust suspension will remain on her record. As we continue discussions with the school, we are also consulting with Logan and her mother to determine what our next steps will be if the school doesn’t do the right thing and remove the suspension.
A student refusing to identify themself is a legitimate disciplinary issue, but such an offense, in a professional school, would normally rate nothing more than a verbal warning. No paperwork would be done. If the child were a serial offender, any school resource officer would surely recognize them on sight, but if they did not, perhaps a day in on campus suspension—at most—might be appropriate.
According to AZ Central.com, school authorities, most likely realizing they’re in trouble, but refusing to back down, are changing their story:
Serrano, in an email to parents, said the situation was about safety, not stifling political viewpoints.
They’re apparently basing this new explanation on the idea that students are required to wear their ID cards and identify themselves when asked. This is not, by itself, unusual or unreasonable, however, again, the apparent facts don’t support this contention. Logan was leaving the school after school hours. The ID card/identify oneself requirement is designed to prevent kids violating the rules from running off and going unpunished. Clearly, Logan followed the orders of the SRO, and of her mother. There was never any indication she intended to be unidentified or do escape punishment, though she did nothing wrong. School safety was not, for a moment, involved.
What appears to have happened is a Leftist school administration wanted to punish Logan for daring to express a differing political outlook, and enraged when Logan’s mother dared to defend her daughter, took it out on Logan, fully expecting he would never be challenged. As this article is posted, the school continues to refuse to comply the with demand letter and expunge Jones’ record.
This is all too common these days, but never acceptable, and always despicable. The citizens of that school district will soon get the opportunity to see if the local school board is more interested in leftist politics than in demanding school staff be role models willing to behave like adults and obey the Constitution.
In my view, the suspension should be recorded, only accurately and with suitable detail.
Let me clarify. A few years ago I had some continuing dealings with a government department here in Australia, during which they would lose my submissions every few times. It reached the point where I insisted that they give me photocopies of my submissions each time, after they had stamped them “received”, so I could get it sorted out the next time (the first time, I was able to prove I had faxed them as I had a record via an email to fax service). Sorting it out took going to an appeal each time, though. The third time they did it, after the previous two had been sorted out, they claimed that they were justified in downplaying my claim that they had again lost the paperwork because their records showed that I had a track record of failing to file! They had “fixed” each error of theirs only by accepting the resubmissions but marking their habit of error as me having a habit of error! A correct record would have shown that the pattern was all theirs and they should never have made any presumption that I was a habitual defaulter.
Anyway, whatever the resolution here, the school should note down that there was actually a suspension. That way, if they are found to be wrong, they will never be able to claim that they never wrongly suspend anyone, whether this person in some later retaliation or other people when they revert to type. Striking from the record lets them off the hook!
P.S., I think you are incorrectly absolving the victim of acting wilfully merely because she was acting properly. She did act wilfully, and to leave that out or to leave it in without “and properly” is the very kind of incorrect recording I meant. For a start, it opens the door to the school to say, wrongly, to others: “this was a mistake of hers [ipso facto, if it was not deliberate] that prevented us from sorting things out; we only let her off because this was an honest mistake of hers, so don’t you lot ever disobey deliberately as that is never right”.
Mike McDaniel said:
Dear P.Pm. Lawrence:
In this case, there’s no chance the school would be able to get away, at some time in the future, with claiming there was no suspension. The internet is forever–maybe. It’s a matter of doing the right thing, and of honor. The principal acted in anger and haste. He should be man enough to admit that. It’s true that having something “on your permanent record” in school matters little, but the request to expunge the record isn’t unreasonable, and I suspect it will eventually be done, quietly.
Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear.
That principal and later principals don’t have to get away with claiming there never was any sort of suspension, they only have to get away with misrepresenting the situation to later batches of students as part of misdirecting them into doing things the principals’ way. Having an inaccurate and incomplete account means that the principals can do that.
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