Jon Katz on NBC’s “Weekend Today” and “Nightly News,” on Dec. 30.

30 Dec Jon Katz on NBC’s “Weekend Today” and “Nightly News,” on Dec. 30.

Last night, NBC’s Weekend Today interviewed me about the overkill school suspension of high school student Courtni Webb for writing a poem about the Newtown massacre, despite her never having handed in the writing. The segment aired December 30 around 8:20 a.m. My five-minute studio interview was cut to minute 1:46-1:58 in the broadcst here. Such cutting is common. UPDATE: Another segment of my interview aired on NBC Nightly News December 30, starting here at minute 1:55.

Of course, in the interview I stated my opposition to the suspension as a violation of Ms. Webb’s First Amendment right to free expression, despite the Supreme Court’s lower level of First Amendment protection within schoolhouse gates.

Here are some other points I made:

– The Sandy Hook massacre was deeply traumatic. For students and others to work through their feelings on this violence, they should not need to be looking over their shoulders when discussing it and should not feel compelled to bottle up their feelings on the tragedy.

– Ms. Webb is in a charter school for at-risk students. This suspension does no good for efforts to help her succeed in school.  

– Although Ms. Webb’s poem’s portion that "I know why he pulled the trigger" sounds disturbing, the poem is First Amendment-protected and clearly would not have been punishable if communicated outside of the schoolhouse gates.

– As Ms. Webb says, Stephen King creates violent writings and never acts on that violence. As Mr. King has said: : "Certainly in this sensitized day and age, my own college writing would have raised red flags, and I’m certain someone would have tabbed me as mentally ill because of them."  

– It appears that Ms. Webb was suspended under a statute that allows suspensions for threats. Ms. Webb’s words do not seem to amount to threats.

– If we are going to prevent repeats of the Newtown massacre, it may be important to understand what motivated Adam Lanza to commit the Sandy Hook massacre, no matter how uncomfortable that might be. Ms. Webb seemed to be trying to do that. Similarly, trial lawyers are more effective in understanding the opponent, judges, jurors, opposing witnesses and others by reversing roles and by crawling under the skin of others. "Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto./I am human: nothing human is alien to me" – Publius Terence.

– Ms. Webb’s suspension is a bad civics lesson for Ms. Webb and her fellow students, and might chill other students from expressing themselves.

ADDENDUM: If you want Courtni Webb’s suspension reversed, please tell her school that now. The news reports that she was suspended from Life Learning Academy charter high school in San Francisco. The school’s contact information is here and here including:

Life Learning Academy Charter High School

651 8th Street, Treasure Island San Francisco, California 94130 (ph): 415-397-8957 (f): 415-397-9274 Principal:   Teri Delane   CES Coordinator:  Craig Miller

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