The Coffee Press

Student Punished for Voicing Opinion

Farrah Fletcher

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After voicing concerns on Wednesday, April 2, with Grundy County High School officials’ decision to appoint a junior as valedictorian of the class of 2018, senior Trevor Sanders was arrested on charges of harassment. Sanders claims school administrators violated his first amendment right to freedom of speech.

According to Sanders, on Monday, he and fellow students learned that the honor of being valedictorian would be bestowed to a junior student who is on course to graduate early, something that is not normally allowed at the highschool. Soon after the announcement, Sanders began to question the lawfulness of the decision. After vocalizing his opinion towards the situation during school on Tuesday, Sanders was given three days of ISS (in school suspension), with the warning of further punishment if he continued to speak on the topic. School officials claimed that Sanders was violating the school’s harassment policy. Sanders recorded the meeting with GCHS principal, Deidre Helton, and vice principal, Adam Floyd. In the recording, the administrators again claimed he was harassing the student appointed valedictorian and that they were not violating any of his rights.

Later, Sanders posted the recording of the meeting onto his Facebook page, and was arrested shortly after on what the sheriff’s office claimed was charges of harassment. The warrant for his arrest was taken out by the valedictorian’s parents. After being released from jail on Thursday, Sanders spoke to the Coffee Press, saying “Truly, I was stunned. I never expected this to happen,”. He also was contacted by Channel 9 and 3 news station journalists, asking about the situation. The senior says he was threatened with a ‘gag order’, banning him from publicly speaking on the subject, but the order was denied.

According to the Supreme Court ruling in the Tinker vs. Des Moines case, students do not lose their freedom of speech when they enter the school. Unless the action or behavior of the student “materially and substantially interferes” with school operation, the students are free to voice their opinions. Sanders claimed that school officials infringed on that right, and is meeting with mounting support with people of the community.

A Grundy County School Board meeting is scheduled for April 12th, where the topic of Sanders’ arrest is likely to be discussed.

Update (April 17, 2018): As a result of the aforementioned Grundy County School Board meeting, the policy has been changed to appoint anyone with a GPA of 4.0 as valedictorian. Therefore, the class of 2018 will have 11 valedictorians.

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Student Punished for Voicing Opinion