Saturday, November 14, 2009


The seemingly innocuous word of "meep" — you might recall it as the only sound made by Beaker, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s lab assistant on The Muppet Show — has led to suspension for a number of students at Danvers High School in Danvers, Mass.
(image and quote from The Vancouver Sun) Do you feel like being a little rambunctious today? Do you feel like striking an innocuous (yet en masse, probably effective) blow in the fight for freedom of speech and expression? Or do you feel like acting to free innocent teens from the shackles of arbitrary and silly rules? Go read this and act on your impulse.
Yesterday I received a reply email from Assistant Principal Mark Strout, which said (in full) "Your E-mail has been forwarded to the Danvers Police Department."

LOLwut? That simultaneously annoyed and amused me enough to write this article. (Plus, my train was late.)

First, apparently this school doesn't know how email works. If they don't like getting emails that say "meep" -- and I'm assuming they got others before they got mine -- it should be a simple matter for the school's IT person to set their email program to filter all external emails that say meep and send them straight into the trash. Then there'd be no need to even look at them, let alone reply to or forward them.

Second, apparently they don't know how the law works. I haven't researched Massachusetts law, but I'm assuming there's no law that would prevent me from sending a single, non-commercial email, containing a single nonsense "word" (but impliedly relating to their work as school officials) to adults at their publicly-posted work emails. And if there were such a law, it would not survive a constitutional challenge. So I don't understand the point of Mr. Strout's email, unless he's hoping to scare me into -- what, not emailing "meep" ever again? Or more generally not criticizing his performance as a school official?

Gee, I'm scared -- maybe the Danvers police will come to NYC to arrest me! I guess they'll also try to extradite people who (I'm guessing) sent emails from other countries. We can be charged with . . . what, first degree meeping? Yeah, good luck with that.

The article was written by Theodora Michaels, attorney at law. BTW, the pertinent e-mail addresses are in the full length article; the above is just an excerpt.

Any school with competent leadership will have one or more rules against disruptive behavior. It is completely appropriate- in fact necessary- for the faculty and staff of that school to enforce those rules, and to apply the prescribed sanctions against offenders. However, to assume that some particular word, in and of itself, is disruptive, and therefore warrants such sanctions, is indeed an abrogation of freedom of speech and expression. (Sure, there are exceptions, such as widely accepted expletives, but in my experience rules against that kind of language are not often enforced, unless it's disruptive, and I can't recall any suspensions over such language)

I've sent my e-mail to the Superintendent, Principal, and two Vice Principals. Rawley witnessed it. Now go send yours. It'll only take a moment, and you'll feel better about yourself. Hat Tip to Swans on Tea for pointing me to Ms. Michaels' post.


1 comment:

libhom said...

The police state mentality in this country is getting more bizarre every day.