We have previously discussed the erosion of free speech rights in high schools as well as the expansion of discipline for students for discussions and postings outside of school. That conflict was vividly shown in Pennsylvania where Peter Butera was speaking to the graduating class of his high school when he criticized the lack of power in student government. The response from Principal Jon Pollard was swift. Butera’s mike was cut off and he was escorted stage.
We recently discussed the free speech controversy in Florida where Vero Beach High School junior J.P. Krause won the election for class president only to be told that he would be retroactively disqualified. The reason was his tongue-in-cheek campaign speech using Trump slogans.
In this case, Butera told his fellow students that following:
“Despite some of the outstanding people in this school, a lack of real student government — and the authoritative nature that a few administrators and school members have — prevents students from developing as true leaders. Hopefully, this will change … (audio turned off).”
Butera was supported by his fellow students and in the end the scene confirmed the very allegation that he raised in the speech. He said as much later when he stated “I don’t think it could have gone any better. I got my point across and them cutting the microphone proved my point to be true.”
While the students chanted “Let him speak!,” the principal reportedly just said “Alright Peter, you’re done.”
Wyoming Area Superintendent Janet Serino supported the school in censoring the speech — noting that Butera had veered from the prepared and approved remarks.
Butera certainly has a memorable graduation though I am surprised that he wants to study business administration rather than law at Villanova University.
The question I would ask if whether these words would have been removed had Butera included them in his draft. I can understand the need for prior approval of speeches but I think that this criticism is precisely the type of independent thought that we want reflected in our graduates.
What do you think?