Last spring, Avery Doninger, junior class secretary at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, CT was working hard to organize an annual battle of the bands at her high school. There had been complications around the venue to be used. The school had a brand new $2 million auditorium that the students wanted to have the concert in.
At a student council meeting, a few days before the scheduled concert, the students found out that the auditorium would not be available as had been planned for. There were some bureaucratic issues about who would oversee the students using the equipment in the auditorium.
Avery, along with three other students did what we as activists applaud. They reached out to the voters and taxpayers. They sent an email to the parents of as many of their friends as they could find email addresses for and asked them to contact the school.
Yet many of us know that government officials don’t always react properly to being contacted by the people they are supposed to serve, and that this can be even worse with school officials.
Avery was told by school officials that as a result of the email, the band festival would be cancelled. The response is also what you would expect from a passionate teenager. That evening at home, she wrote an entry using a few choice words in her Livejournal.
It was later when the school administration found out about the blog entry that things took a turn for the bizarre. They spoke with Avery’s mother and Avery’s mother counseled her in Avery’s use of language and ways of dealing with frustration and intransigent officials.
At this point, the school went beyond what is reasonable. They forbade Avery from running for re-election as class secretary. They confiscated T-shirts that students wore to school to support Avery. They placed false information in students’ disciplinary records about the event. When Avery won the election on write-in votes, the school discarded her votes and named the second place candidate as the winner.
When confronted about this by Avery’s mother, the remained intransigent so Avery’s mother took them to court for violation of Avery’s civil rights.
The initial motion was filed in the Connecticut courts, but lawyers for the school got it moved to the U.S. District Court in New Haven. Judge Kravitz, a Bush appointee and close friend of Justice Roberts heard the motion for preliminary relief. I blogged about these hearings in the Connecticut section of my blog, Orient Lodge. If you want more details, please stop by.
Forty-five minutes after hearing the end of testimony, Judge Kravitz issued a thirty-four-page ruling, denying Avery’s request for preliminary relief. The case is now headed to a full trial in the District Court. In addition, an appeal of Judge Kravitz’ ruling has been filed in the U.S. Second Circuit.
This sort of legal action costs money. This is where Poets, Writers, Bands and all of us come in. This coming Sunday, there will be a fundraiser in Litchfield, CT called Poets and Writers for Avery. The event will include bands from the rescheduled concert and noted writers and poets, including Wally Lamb.
It would be great to see some folks from Massachusetts come down. This should be a great event. Even if you can’t attend, please show your support in other ways. Contribute what you can. If you have a website of your own, please add this ChipIn widget. If you are on Facebook, please join Team Avery.
If you believe that we should be able to express our feelings on personal blogs at home without schools punishing us for it, if you believe that every vote should be counted, then you should stand with Team Avery.
Thanks, and I hope I see a bunch of you in Litchfield.