A few days ago, her high school class made a trip to Topeka, Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback gave a speech to several high school classes. During the course of the trip, Ms. Sullivan sent out the following tweet: “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”Obviously I'm against this compulsion on the part of the school, and some might wonder how I balance this with my agreement on the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case the Supreme Court decided a few years ago. The BH4J case involved public behavior, this case involves speech. Schools can proscribe behavior, but the bar for proscribing speech should be higher.
Ms. Sullivan didn’t actually make any critical comments in person, but the tweet, sent out to a following of about 60 people (though it’s over 800 now), somehow caught the eye of the Governor’s Director of Communication, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, during her daily monitoring of social media mentions of Governor Brownback. Shocked – shocked! – that a teenager’s tweet about a politician was “disrespectful,” she complained to the high school. “It’s also important for students to recognize the power of social media, how lasting it is. It is on the Internet,” she said.
The High School, in turn, apparently even more shocked about how kids these days don’t respect their elected leaders, scolded Ms. Sullivan and forced her to write a letter of apology to the Governor’s office. Sullivan wrote the letter – because she didn’t want a disciplinary action on her transcripts and have it affect her ability to go to college. But she is rightfully unapologetic in real life.
Update, 11/29/11: At least they figured it out:
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback apologized Monday for what he called his staff's "overreaction" to a disparaging tweet directed at him by a high school senior during a state Capitol visit.