I haven't written to the Empire before about what happened that led to my suspension from school for carrying a banner. But the My Turn column by Superintendent Gary Bader in Thursday's paper compels me to correct his factual errors. I will leave his statements about the law to the courts.
Mr. Bader stated that the banner was displayed at a "school activity." It was not. The Torch Relay was not sponsored by the school. Students were allowed to watch it or not, as they chose. I intentionally stayed off school property when I displayed the banner so that there would be no question that I was a member of the public on public property, not on school property.
He states that the banner had an "illegal drug message." It did not. The banner was intended to be a humorous parody and nothing more. It was not intended to advocate illegal drug use. Could some people mistake it for a drug message? Obviously. But a mistake by another person cannot be an excuse for depriving me of constitutional rights.
He states that I was "skipping classes" that morning. I came to school late because my car had gotten stuck in a snowbank that morning. The school officials have known this from the start.
Mr. Bader claims I "argued" with Principal Morse. I did not. Even Ms. Morse, in her testimony, admitted that I was respectful and that I simply asked, "What about my First Amendment rights?" He also says that she "calmly rolled the banner up." In fact she tore it out of my hands and took it from all the people holding it, some of whom were students and some of whom were not.
He claims I didn't "cooperate" in coming to the principal's office as she had instructed. This is completely untrue. I got my books, told the teacher in my next class that I had to go to the principal's office, and immediately went there and met with her. He says I was "argumentative" with her. Again, she admits that I was respectful in asserting that I had a First Amendment right to display the banner. And contrary to Mr. Bader's assertion, she did give me an additional suspension after I quoted Thomas Jefferson to her. When she was asked about this in her testimony before the superintendent, she said she didn't remember whether I said it or not. But I recall it very clearly since it was so clearly unfair and, I believe, unconstitutional.
I am content to let the courts decide who is right under the law. But please, no more inaccurate statements from the School District to the press!