It's that time of year when kids are graduating from high school, and the age old tradition of the valedictorian speech is happening all around the country. While exciting for the kids, families and other students, these kinds of speeches are generally pretty quickly forgotten and certainly tend not to make the national news. However, in nearby Petaluma, California, something different is happening, all because a bunch of spineless school administration officials freaked out that the valedictorian, Lulabel Seitz, wanted to discuss sexual assault. During her speech, the school cut her mic when she started talking about that issue (right after talking about how the whole community had worked together and fought through lots of adversity, including the local fires that ravaged the area a few months back). Seitz has since posted the video of both her mic being cut off and then with her being filmed giving the entire speech directly to a camera.
And, of course, now that speech -- and the spineless jackasses who cut the mic -- are getting national news coverage. The story of her speech and the mic being cut has been on NPR, CBS, ABC, CNN, Time, the NY Post, the Washington Post and many, many more.
In the ABC story, she explains that they told her she wasn't allowed to "go off script" (even pulling out of a final exam to tell her they heard rumors she was going to go off speech and that she wasn't allowed to say anything negative about the school) and that's why the mic was cut, even as the school didn't know what she was going to say. She also notes -- correctly -- that it was a pretty scary thing for her to continue to go through with the speech she wanted to give, despite being warned (for what it's worth, decades ago, when I was in high school, I ended up in two slightly similar situations, with the administration demanding I edit things I was presenting -- in one case I caved and in one I didn't -- and to this day I regret caving). Indeed, she deserves incredible kudos for still agreeing to give her speech, and it's great to see the Streisand Effect make so many more people aware of (1) her speech and (2) what a bunch of awful people the administrators at her school are for shutting her speech down.
As for the various administrators, their defense of this action is ridiculous. They're quoted in a few places, but let's take the one from the Washington Post:
“In Lulabel’s case, her approved speech didn’t include any reference to an assault,” [Principal David Stirrat] said. “We certainly would have considered such an addition, provided no individuals were named or defamed.”
As Seitz notes, she never intended to name names, and the school had told her so many times not to talk about these things it was obvious to her that she wouldn't have been able to give that speech if she had submitted the full version. In the ABC interview she explained that rather than just letting the valedictorian speak as normal, the school had actually told her she had to "apply" to speak.
Dave Rose, an assistant superintendent, told the Press Democrat that he could remember only one other time that administrators had disconnected a microphone during a student’s graduation speech in the past seven years, but said he believed it was legal.
“If the school is providing the forum, then the school has the ability to have some control over the message,” Rose said.
Actually, that's not how the First Amendment works. Schools can limit some things, but not if it's based on the content of the message, which appears to be the case here. Of course, I doubt that Seitz is going to go to court over this as it's not worth it, but thanks to the Streisand Effect, she doesn't need to. The world has learned about her speech... and about how ridiculous the administrators are in her school district.