Tweeting teen’s rights infringed
In November, Emma Sullivan, a high school senior from Shawnee Mission participated in a Youth in Government program that involved a speech from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Apparently unimpressed, as the governor spoke, she tweeted “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”
Although Sullivan said she was “just joking with friends,” Brownback’s staff contacted the Youth in Government program, which contacted Sullivan’s school. Sullivan was verbally disciplined at school and told to send Brownback an apology letter.
It is the opinion of the Collegio that Shawnee Mission East, as a public school, has no authority over students’ conduct outside of school, especially when it pertains to their right to free speech.
Although the school is responsible for the safety and behavior of students during school hours, Sullivan’s actions were not disruptive, dangerous or illegal. Therefore, the school’s attempt to discipline her for expressing a political opinion is unconstitutional. If the school has policies against using social media during school hours, Sullivan is responsible for those actions. However, it is not within the school’s power to make Sullivan retract her statement.
Sullivan’s principal, Karl Krawitz, suggested points for Sullivan to cover in her apology letter to Brownback. For Krawitz, an administrator at a public school, to suggest topics for a letter retracting a student’s opinion is a definite overreach of his duties. Krawitz should be encouraging Sullivan to back up her opinion and educate herself on her rights instead of attempting to censor her for the sake of public relations.
That the governor’s office contacted Sullivan’s high school in the first place reflects poorly on the governor’s priorities and dedication to his responsibilities as a civil servant. Rather than being concerned about what one teenager tweeted about his speech, the governor should be considering how to connect better with the youth of the state and how to give them a chance to voice their specific concerns. As a high-ranking, public upholder of the rights of the people, Brownback had the opportunity to support Sullivan’s right to free speech. Instead, his office sent this message to the youth of the state: negative opinions are not appreciated or supported by this administration. There is hardly a less desirable message to send to any young people in the state, and especially ironic because of the governor’s involvement with the Youth in Government program.
Regardless of the validity or politeness of the opinion, Sullivan, as an American citizen, has the right to say whatever she wants about the politicians of this country. As a man whose job it is to advocate for the people, Brownback should have set an example and responded with courtesy and support for Sullivan’s right to her opinion.
The Collegio, as an organization that depends on the First Amendment to function, would like to extend its support for Sullivan and hopes that in the future such incidents will go without punishment for those involved.