Expelled for posting a letter

Rohit Khare (khare@w3.org)
Tue, 4 Mar 1997 18:10:11 -0500 (EST)

[This doesn't sound like the whole story.. but I can believe in pigheaded
anti-free-expression administrators, even at 'charter' schools.]

[Why I found this may be more informative: the ClickShare micropayment system
has folded; this was their prototype info source, now free. For the saga
of a hitech firm failure, don't try http://www.clickshare.com , try
http://www.nlightning.com/clickshare/forsale.html ]

--> http://www.newshare.com/ar/

Mary Fister
American Reporter Correspondent
Eden Prairie, Minn.

by Mary Fister, 13
American Reporter Correspondent

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- I was expelled from my public school for a
year, which is the longest the school could kick me out in Minnesota since
guns weren't involved. My name is Mary Fister and I am 13 years old.
Last year my school suspended me three times and then expelled me over a
free speech issue. This year I am in court battling it out with the
Many think that students just do not have First Amendment rights
until they turn 18, but that is not so. There have been some pretty cool
court cases regarding students and free speech, namely Tinker vs. Des
Moines School District and Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier. In
Tinker, students won. In Hazelwood, school administrators won.
Tinker was in 1969, and the famous quote from it is by Justice
Fortas: "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed
their Constitutional right to freedom of speech or expression at the
schoolhouse gate."
This pretty much means that students going to a public school have
very real First Amendment rights. Hazelwood was with a school newspaper
published by a journalism class, and, once it had been decided, limited
Tinker's reach on the First Amendment. Hazelwood said that students have
rather limited rights when it comes to school sponsored activities or
things core to the school.
What basically happened? Last year I posted a letter in my
"personal work area" at school that the advisors didn't like very much. My
school, the Minnesota New Country School, was a charter school and
assigned work areas to students.
Before I go on, I should probably explain what they are talking
about in this letter. Deformed frogs were found in a farmer's pond when I
was attending MNCS, and those frogs were a pretty big deal. I wrote an
article about the frogs that was published in The American Reporter.
After that, the Minneapolis newspapers and television and radio stations
picked it up and publicized it, too, and soon it was all over the
Internet and the world.
Getting an article published was a pretty big deal in itself. I
don't think I did anything wrong regarding the article or the quote. I
called "Fred", told him what I was doing, and he didn't mind at all.
This is what I posted, I think it is perfectly innocuous. It is
exactly the same, except I changed the boy's name:
"Dear Mary: It has come to our attention you have been soliciting
information and quotes from our son, Fred, regarding the frogs, his
feelings about the frogs, and the research surrounding them. As Fred's
parents, we do not want you using information or quotes given to you by
our son for publication. Sincerely, (name deleted)."
As I said, I posted this in my personal work area. A work area is
a pretty cool concept, and is like a locker and a permanent desk combined.
The students there don't go to classes, and the wecause I didn't
want someone picking on me (so to speak), but because I thought I had a
First Amendment right to do so. And I still think I do.
I don't think what I posted violated the school's display policy.
I don't think that it created any disruption at MNCS. And if it did, I'm
sure it couldn't be anything that was more than the ordinary distraction
going on there at a daily basis. The school may have disrupted the usual
pace of the school when they made a big deal about it being up, but other
than that, I do not think it could have been at all disruptive. In other
words, I think it is ridiculous that the school would suspend me, let
alone expel me for a whole year.
The school has one major advantage over me. They have hired two
law firms to get them through without scars in this case, and I don't have
one. My father is representing me pro se because we just can't afford
thousands of dollars for a lawyer, and the ACLU won't help.
Then again, I think I have one major advantage over the school:
the First Amendment looks a lot better on my side.