Mixed Verdict for Student Speech
Gregory Requa, a senior at Kentridge (WA) High School, wasn't quite so fortunate. He allegedly took part in producing a film critical of his junior English teacher, Joyce Mong. The short video (caution: offensive material included) was filmed last year, posted on YouTube over the summer, and first discovered by school officials and the since retired teacher only after a local television station (KOMO 4 News) called seeking commentary in February 2007. Requa denies any role in the film's production. He did link the video to his MySpace page upon viewing it last summer. The principal, Michael Albrecht, considered the film a form of harassment and suspended Requa for 40 days. He will be able to participate in graduation ceremonies only if he writes a research paper on the issue of sexual harassment.
Admittedly, none of these stories are black and white, slam dunk cases. The video of Mong is without doubt tasteless and stands as borderline defamation, and Requa (and/ or other members of the guilty party) should be subjected to a libel suit (if Mong pursues the case) outside of the school environment. Punishment for production of the video and its life on the Internet, especially without definitive evidence of his guilt or material and sustantial disruption of the learning environment is constitutionally questionable.
Lee escaped legal charges, but his attorney's penchant to blame the teacher, Nora Capron, who assigned the essay, borders on ludicrous. Free writing exercises are invitations to write about whatever crosses one's mind, but Lee, a solid student and former Marine recruit, should have known better than to pen threatening prose implicating his teacher. In this era of Columbine and Virginia Tech, Capron was right to raise the red flag. Teachers are placed in a precarious position when security concerns collide with student speech. Imagine the blame Capron would bear if Lee carried through with his written threats.