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Free Speech is Important - Don't Let the School System Take It Away

I noticed that the blog post, "Lincoln High v. Kearney: an Opportunity to Re-evaluate Intent," written by Aurora Sulzle, one of Feminists for Change's members, had been taken down as I scrolled through the website late Thursday night, hoping to check how many views it had gained in the past few hours. The post was incredibly popular- tripling the hits of most of our articles, and I felt excited about the impact our club was having on the greater Lincoln community. But as I sat, confused, staring at a phone screen which showed, very clearly, that Aurora's post was no longer present on the page, I must say I didn't think much of it. I assumed that it was simply a networking error on the part of my device and that my phone hadn't caught up to the recent update.

It wasn't until noon Friday that I realized something was seriously wrong. Indeed, as I checked the website again, this time on my laptop, I observed that the post was absent from my feed. My concern was compounded when I spoke to Aurora that day at lunch (she hadn't taken down the article either), causing me to get in communication with our club sponsor to get to the heart of the issue.

Long story short: the traction that Aurora's post gained alerted our school's administration of the presence of our website (apparently having a site that isn't under the domain of "lps.org" is against district policy and furthermore, our principal seemed uncomfortable with students having unregulated access to the blog feature of our platform). Thus, he asked the club's faculty adviser to take the post down and restrict student's access to post on the site, at least for the time being.

I have a problem with this.

It is impossible for me to convey my anger at the constant oppression of student voices by the United States public school systems and the government as a whole. The fact that we, as high schoolers, are not regarded as mature or considerate enough to make decisions about what is appropriate to post on the internet, especially since many of us have more experience with social media than most of the adults regulating us, is quite frankly absurd. While I understand that these policies are in place in order to prevent the spread of false information and protect the image of the school, I also see them very easily being abused. When all content being posted onto the web is filtered through teachers first, it stifles the creativity and nuance of the ideas students are spreading. Young people are always the most radical in their ideologies (probably because they understand the present world better than anyone else- they are the one's growing up in it after all) and so when older generations push their worldview onto our material, so much authenticity is taken away.

Aurora and I went to speak to our school's administration Friday afternoon in order to better understand the situation as a whole. We were leery about simply giving up our website and changing it to conform with the district's standards- we have cultivated our platform to reflect our values and be effective in advocating for the peoples that we wish to support. As I stood waiting outside the principal's office, I didn't know what to expect, and the conversation that ensued was long winded and mostly concluded in "I'll get more information to you on Monday". However, there was one aspect of the dialogue that I remember clearly and want to discuss.

In order to provide some justification for what happened, our principal brought up the SCOTUS case of Tinker v. Des Moines. I unfortunately did not know enough about the case during the conversation in order to address his interpretation at the time, but after doing research, I'm unsure why the precedent established would have been helpful to his argument. In 1965, after a group of students were suspended for wearing arm bands that protested the Vietnam War, the parents and students sued the school district. The case, Tinker v. Des Moines, eventually made it to the Supreme Court where it was ruled that "public schools cannot censor student expression unless they can reasonably forecast that the speech will substantially disrupt school activities or invade the rights of others". Our principal was using Tinker v. Des Moines to say that the school has the ability to regulate our speech where they see fit, but it is hard for me to wrap my head around how our website and blog is interrupting any learning environments. If anything, I feel that our blog empowers students within Feminists for Change to share pieces of their mind that they may not feel comfortable articulating in other spaces (spaces that may be more regulated by family or community members), and helps students who aren't participating in our organization grow by exposing them to new perspectives.

Now I realize that maybe that is the problem: we are being empowered, so we must be silenced.

I would be remiss to ignore the fact that our principal is not necessarily the culprit in this situation- he is simply trying to follow a policy that the school district has set (a policy similar to ones being established all throughout the country). Indeed, our story parallels that of many students in the US who are grappling with the loss of their freedom of speech as public schools adapt to the rise of social media and virtual communication. For example, in Grand Island earlier this year, the school newspaper was shut down after a group of students attempted to publish an edition honoring the LGBTQ members of their community.

I feel sad and frustrated that these issues have arisen in a community I hold to be so dear. My school is a place I feel I can genuinely be myself, and I have felt for a long time that it is different from other institutions in that respect. I still believe that my high school is a special place, but in order for it to remain that way in the years to come, it must change with the times. Certainly, regardless of your political beliefs, I feel we all understand the importance of free speech; speak up you see others being silenced.













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