Sunday, December 13, 2015

College Student Takes a Stand Against Campus Free Speech Policy, Sues School

A student at an Arizona community college is challenging her school’s so-called “speech zone,” arguing the policy “severely limited” her right to free speech and due process.

Brittany Mirelez, a freshman at Paradise Valley Community College in Maricopa County, Ariz., was kicked out of the designated speech zone in October for failing to obtain permission to use the space.

Mirelez had set up a table to converse with students about a group she is trying to start called the Young Americans for Liberty. The group, which has branches nationwide, advocates for limited government and liberty-minded candidates.

Originally, Mirelez said a Student Life official granted her permission, but shortly after setting up her table, a different official told her she had to leave because she didn’t get approval to use the space 48 hours in advance.

“It was just rude and uncalled for,” Mirelez, 18, told The Daily Signal. “I didn’t really understand the big deal, so we had a little argument for 10 minutes. Then I finally was like, ‘I’ll go inside even though I don’t see the difference between being inside versus outside.’”

After being told that she violated campus policy, Mirelez packed up her belongings and left the area.

But two months later, The Daily Signal has exclusively learned that Mirelez filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Arizona against Dr. Paul Dale, president of Paradise Valley Community College, along with two other campus officials.

In the lawsuit, Mirelez alleges “the fear of arrest or punishment severely limited [her] constitutionally-protected expression on campus.”

“This is unnecessary and unconstitutional,” Mirelez said, arguing her free speech shouldn’t be confined to a particular space on campus.

In the lawsuit, her attorney argued that because Paradise Valley Community College receives public funds, “the First Amendment rights of free speech and press extend to campuses of state colleges.”

Mirelez is not seeking specific monetary damages, but she is asking the school and its officials to cover her legal fees and more importantly, to change its campus “speech zone” policy.

The Daily Signal obtained a copy of the school’s current policy, which states that students are entitled to “speak in public and to demonstrate in a lawful manner” Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. That speech is limited to one particular outside walkway.

According to court documents, the speech zone “comprises less than 0.26 percent of the entire Paradise Valley Community College campus.”

“Colleges are supposed to be a place where ideas are freely shared, not gagged or suppressed,” Tyson Langhofer, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Mirelez in her lawsuit, told The Daily Signal. “College really works against its own purpose when it places restrictive speech rules above freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees to students and all other citizens.”

Free speech zones are a contested policy among college campuses, and often find themselves subject to lawsuits.

This is not the first lawsuit that members of Young Americans for Liberty have brought forth against speech codes. In March, three students from Dixie State University filed a similar lawsuit, alleging the university refused to approve promotional flyers about Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, those flyers “disparage[d] and “mock[ed]” those individuals.

On Sept. 17, Dixie State settled with the students, agreeing to revise the campus speech policies and pay $50,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.

Mirelez said she is “hopeful” to reach a similar outcome. And for the most part, the political science major said she has the support of her teachers and fellow students.

“I think a lot of people would approve of getting the [speech zone] taken away,” she said. “A lot of students have told me it’s weird that they only see us in one spot, that they would like to see us around campus more.”

“You don’t wake up and say I kind of want to sue my school to get rid of something,” Mirelez added. “But it’s gotta happen.”


Norway: Permission need to dance around Christmas tree‏

Some Norwegian parents are asking just how far schools should go in accommodating minorities after a school in suburban Oslo asked parents for permission to let kids dance around the Christmas tree.

Oslo area mum Karianne Haug told Aftenposten that she could scarcely believe her own eyes when her child came home from Lesterud School in the western suburban municipality of Bærum with a slip asking permission to let her child sing and dance around the Christmas tree.

“It’s fine to ask [for one’s child] to be exempt from the religious service, that has worked fine for years, but to have to check off permission to dance around the Christmas tree? What will be next? Where is the limit for how many considerations we should take? Who makes these considerations, and for whom?” she said.

School official Gry Hovland said that several area schools have for several years had a joint set of rules for which types of activities kids can participate in. She said the guidelines are based upon recommendations from the  Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (Utdanningsdirektoratet), which references a European Court of Human Rights decision a few years ago that recommends schools be “especially cautious” about religious activities amongst young students.

“We interpret going around the Christmas tree, which includes singing Christian songs, as an event that tends toward religious content. We want to protect ourselves and not cross any boundaries. That’s why we ask parents and guardians to give permission to go around the Christmas tree,” she told Aftenposten.

She said that very few students opt out of the ritual, while more parents opt to not let their children participate in the religious service.

Loveleen Brenna, who heads a consultancy firm focused on diversity in the workplace, told Aftenposten that while she is sure the school had the best intentions, the Christmas tree exemption was misguided.

“One must be careful not to wipe out part of the cultural foundation in Norway under the guise of respect for diversity,” she warned.

That sentiment was echoed by concerned mum Haug.

“Norwegian traditions are important, that’s how I see it. We live in a society with rapid changes and families that are splitting up. Traditions help to protect our children. I think it creates a problem if all students, regardless of their believes, can’t gather around the Christmas tree – how harmful can it be?” she asked Aftenposten.


Veteran British teacher WINS her appeal against a conviction for clipping an unruly teenage boy around the ear that threatened to end her unblemished career

A veteran teacher whose exemplary career was left in tatters after she was found guilty of clipping an unruly pupil with a book has today won her appeal to have her conviction quashed.

Regina Hungerford, 54, faced a lifetime classroom ban after being found guilty of assaulting Shane Jenkins when she 'lost it' during a maths class at Merthyr Tydfil College, South Wales.

The court heard she had apparently lashed out with the book because the teenager refused to stop playing music on his smartphone.

But Mrs Hungerford - whose 25-year volunteering career with the Girl Guides was also threatened - has now won her appeal to have her conviction quashed.

The win is a victory for campaigners who described the case as a 'complete scandal' and called on the law courts to sympathise more with teachers under strain from badly behaved pupils.

The teacher had always admitted throwing Jenkins's phone out of the window, but insisted she did not strike the boy, who was 17 at the time.

After being found guilty in October of the assault - despite conflicting evidence in court from the alleged victim - she vowed to fight the 'miscarriage of justice'.

Mrs Hungerford, who was supported in court by a friend, declined to comment after the case if she would return to work at the college where she taught for 14 years.

But a friend said: 'It is a big relief and she want to get on with her life. She wouldn't be able to teach nor do the Guides with a criminal conviction - but now she can carry on.'   

The appeal heard how the incident unfolded when Jenkins had refused Mrs Hungerford's repeated requests that he turn off his mobile phone. The pupil then said: 'You can't make me' when she asked him again.

He then claimed that Mrs Hungerford lashed out with the book.

Jenkins initially admitted he was not certain that Mrs Hungerford hit him. But he later said he was 'sure' Mrs Hungerford had caught him once with the hardback.

Mrs Hungerford, of Cefn Coed, Merthyr Tydfil, who said she was normally 'very calm', admitted using two hands to 'slam the book down on the desk' but said she did not hit the boy.

Classroom assistan Michelle Waters also gave evidence that the book was an A5 notebook while support worker Beverley Clark said it was a spiral notebook and files.

Widowed Ms Hungerford had taught for 13 years at Merthyr Tydfil college before the incident.

She also volunteered with the girl guides for 25 years and had been the county commissioner for Breconshire between 2006 and 2007. Her conviction left a question mark over whether she would be able to continue in that role. 

Her defence barrister Peter Doninson had said the 'real sentence' was 'the loss of her employment and loss of work with the girl guides'.

'She can no longer volunteer in the community and that is a loss to her well being and the community that she supports,' he had said.

After the sentencing, in which she was subject to a 12-month community order, she said: ‘This has ruined my life and I want to do my best to overturn this miscarriage of justice.’

Today's appeal was heard in front of a judge and two magistrates at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court.


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