The Andover Public Schools is a government entity (technically, a “state actor”) and as such it is obligated to respect the free speech rights of the citizens of Andover as such rights are specified in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Articles XIX (which works in concert with Article XVI) of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (“free speech rights”). It has long been recognized that free speech rights and access to the press are intertwined and also that press access to unfolding events is essential to freedom of the press.
It is my understanding that, in connection with the student protest against the dismissal of the Andover High School hockey coach, several students were disciplined for leaving campus. It is my further understanding that the reason the several students left campus was to speak to the press. It is also my understanding that the press was not allowed on the Andover High School campus during the protest.
By disciplining the students for leaving the campus to speak to the press, the Andover public schools have disrespected the free speech rights of the students and interfered with press access to an unfolding event. The Andover Public Schools should have either allowed the press on campus (easily arranged away from the building so as to not be disruptive) or not have disciplined the students for leaving campus to speak to the press. It is my opinion that, by disciplining the students for leaving school grounds to speak to the press, the Andover Public Schools have at least chilled if not outright violated the free speech rights of the students.
It is also my understanding that, in the past, the Andover Public Schools have painted over the “respect our coaches” painting on the rock in front of the Andover High School. That statement on the rock was not vulgar or inappropriate in any manner; indeed, that statement is one which no reasonable person could possibly disagree. The fact that the Andover Public School administration did take issue with it and painted over it is deeply concerning. Painting over that statement was also disrespectful of the free speech rights of the students. It is my opinion that, by painting over the rock, Andover Public Schools violated the free speech rights of the students.
The abridgement of free speech rights is a most certain sign of oppressive government acting against the interest of the citizenry and attempting to avoid public scrutiny of its questionable actions. It seems to me that the Andover Public Schools should immediately rescind the disciplinary action against the students and publicly apologize to the students.
6 Douglass Lane