The story, from NPR, says that Emma Sullivan tweeted “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot” while at a Youth in Government event sponsored by her high school. Someone in the Governor’s office saw the tweet and contacted the program; her principal demanded a written apology; Sullivan has refused to write one.
Honestly, I think there are two moderately appalling aspects of this story–the total lack of content/ingenuity in her tweet, and the apparent fact that Kansas pays someone with so little actual work to do that they have time to whine about stupid tweets from high schoolers.
Since the content of the tweet is so lame, I’m really only posting this to commend Sullivan (and her mother) on refusing to apologize–and particularly on refusing to be coerced into apologizing. The principal was probably out of line in demanding an apology, and certainly out of line in suggesting talking points for it. That, I think, bespeaks his disregard for honest public expression–it comes off as the bush-league equivalent of a Soviet pre-written confession. Props to Sullivan for rejecting it, and to her mother for standing behind her.
That said, I expect that the school does have some legally acceptable punishment that they could impose, if they want to be anti-free-speech dicks. I think the tweet could be not-unreasonably interpreted as disruptive/inappropriate conduct at a school event, and so they would be legally in the clear if they chose to restrict her participation in such events. I don’t think it’s a good idea, but I do think it’s Constitutional.
If I were the principal, I’d go a different route: ask Sullivan to write up her own talking points for what she’d like to discuss with the Governor, and send them to his office. If she has reasonable ideas and got a meeting, even with someone on his staff, she might be inclined to apologize sincerely–not for disagreeing, but for doing it in an unproductive way.