A website with teacher reviews got a student suspended from school, in 1994

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

How can schools teach young citizens that they have the right of free speech, and yet then impose harsh punishments for free speech?

Fortunately, both my parents and everyone I talked to during my suspension (the length of which the school refused to define, but ended up being five days) were largely supportive of my cause. They argued (and I agreed) that what I had done was careless, and I could have avoided the whole mess in the first place by just using common sense, but at the same time the school was grossly overreacting.

One friend of mine put me in touch with a reporter from the Calgary Herald who had written a story about a student who had drawn raunchy comics and sold them (entirely off school property) to other kids. A teacher found and confiscated one of the comics from someone who had bought it, and then they suspended the artist! The newspaper article caused a very embarrassing situation for the school, and the artist was promptly reinstated. The reporter said it was a very similar case to mine, and he would definitely be interested in pursuing the story. I told him I’d let him know after I knew what was happening with my suspension.

After five gut-wrenching days they finally called me back into the school, which is where my dad and I learned that I was to be expelled.

My Appeal

The principal’s smug assertion that the expulsion was a done-deal meant I had to prepare for the worst. We set up the appointment with the superintendent, and spent the few days leading up to it looking into the school I would be transferred to. When we visited for a brief tour, it seemed so alien and frightening to me. I tried to picture myself taking my final exams, surrounded by complete strangers in the unfamiliar gymnasium. It all felt so surreal.

The night before the meeting, my dad asked if I planned on saying anything or if I wanted him to do all the talking. “You can talk if you want,” I told him, “but I will definitely be making my own appeal.” My dad nodded and told me he would look over my speech if I wanted him to. I stayed up most of the night working on it, making sure it said everything I wanted to as clearly and concisely as possible. I wanted to keep it polite and civil, while at the same time expressing how deeply and infuriatingly wrong I believed it was for them to punish me this severely. I didn’t take my dad up on his offer to help–I wanted the words to be mine and mine alone.

The superintendent was another tall, stocky woman with short-cropped hair. My dad later joked that she was probably the principal’s older sister. It was just her, my dad, and me in the room when she sat us down and asked if I had anything I’d like to say before we begin.

I nodded, pulled out the cue cards I had created, and gave her my speech.

I told her I knew that what I had done had offended a lot of people at the school, and I told her that I was truly sorry for that. It was all done in the name of humor, and I never meant for or expected it to be taken so seriously. I also told her I felt that the school had handled the situation extremely poorly.

The superintendent was silent for most of my speech, save for one moment when I said “I know that the teachers have to look like they’re protecting the students’ best interests…”

As soon as I said that, she stopped me and said “would you care to rephrase that?”

“I know that the teachers have to protect the students’ best interests…” I said. She nodded, and I continued.

I told her how I had written, published, and hosted the newsletter entirely in my own time, never using school resources. She nodded, unflinching. I told her how I had reached out to the school on the website, stating that I would be willing to work with them to improve the newsletter into something they could accept. She nodded again, unflinching. I told her how if the school had just contacted me with their concerns and let me know how serious they were taking this, I probably would have taken everything down. More nodding, still no flinching. I told her how I had talked to a reporter at the Calgary Herald who had previously written an article about a situation very similar to this, and that he had expressed a keen interest in the outcome of my situation.

Wait a second… Was that a flinch?

At the end of the meeting, she thanked us, and told us she would be contacting us with next steps shortly. The next day I was reinstated at Sir Winston Churchill High School and told to resume my normal class schedule immediately.

I did it! I won!

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