Friday, February 28, 2020
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Student says Hinsdale board member bullied her

A student at Hinsdale South High School in Darien, Ill., has accused a school board member of calling her a bully as she passed out campaign literature before a school play on March 19, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Marissa Dupont states that District 86 board member Claudia Manley said her actions violated school board policy, but I could find no such policy among school board documents. I looked in all the sections that seemed to pertain to political or campaign activities. Here and here, for example. Even here. No luck.

I couldn’t find a copy of the student handbook, which may or may not contain other rules for student conduct surrounding board of education elections. But if free speech is suppressed, either by rule or by bullying, that constitutes an infringement on students’ rights by a representative of a public school.

Ms Manley’s daughter was participating in the play that night at Hinsdale South. Although Ms Dupont’s actions—supporting candidates for the upcoming school board election who are opposed to a majority to which Ms Manley belongs—may have been untimely or in bad form, we must defend her right to speak on important school board matters.

Ms Dupont accused Ms Manley of calling her a bully in a conversation the two had that night. However, the Tribune was unable to secure any comments from Ms Manley about the incident.

“I have had a tough time with bullying in middle school,” the paper quoted Ms Dupont as saying. “I take (being called a bully) very, very personally.”

Three years ago, a broad coalition of educators and religious groups, from the National Association of Evangelicals to the National School Boards Association, endorsed a pamphlet, “Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools.” I invite you to read its 10 pages, written mostly by the American Jewish Committee, including this:

Even though there is a right to turn away from speech with which one disagrees, school officials should explain, on an age-appropriate basis, that it is a necessary habit of democratic citizenship to learn to listen to ideas with which one disagrees, to analyze arguments, and to respond, whether with a rebuttal or defense, or a change, modification or reaffirmation of one’s own views.

It is equally a necessary habit of democratic citizenship to learn to express oneself without giving unnecessary offense even if toleration of offensive speech is also required. Schools should endeavor to teach these skills as well.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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