High School Student's Speech About Campus Sexual Assault Gets Widespread Attention After School Cuts Her Mic

from the streisand-high dept

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.

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Comments on “High School Student's Speech About Campus Sexual Assault Gets Widespread Attention After School Cuts Her Mic”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Power goes to the head, and destroys it

They want to control so much their grip keeps getting tighter and tighter, and the thing they wish to control just squeezes out of the tube.

First, huh? "out of the tube"? Is that yet another dig at OOTB? Or just lousy phrase picked out of the blue?

Anyhoo, your apparent notion is that ONE person has the right to HIJACK the attention of several hundred persons at an arranged venue for specific purpose. THEREFORE I expect your future support for my little bits of text HERE. Thanks!

Anonymous Coward says:

Your notion of Public Forums is not consistent except with YOU!

"If the school is providing the forum, then the school has the ability to have some control over the message," Rose said.

To which Manick snipes:

Actually, that’s not how the First Amendment works.

REALLY? After going on in other pieces that corporations have a "First Amendment Right" to control the speech and outlets of "natural" persons, regardless of The Public’s First Amendments rights — and that "platforms" are now Public Forums in the Sandvig decision — REALLY, you can just blithely REVERSE and say person has absolute right to just HIJACK a large venue for pet topic?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Your notion of Public Forums is not consistent except with YOU!

First, NO, this isn’t "government": it’s A PUBLIC GATHERING FOR SPECIFIC PURPOSE. Lots of people showed up, and it’s THEIR time.

The person was warned ahead of time and had stated agreed to terms, then tried to hijack the whole event. — BY the way, this kind of hijacking started at Academy Awards, WAY back.

OKAY. So next time I’M accused of hijacking topic here, Manick now supports me… Oh, right. Back to an alleged public / private distinction (despite the Sandvig decision that I mention above).

I’m somehow always on the wrong end! — Either that or it’s Manick who reverses whenever suits him!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Your notion of Public Forums is not consistent except with YOU!

High schools are funded with government money. This isn’t a private enterprise’s event. Now, there’s precedent and debate over pupils and curtailed rights on campuses, but that’s a different debate over if high schools are public or private ventures.

And you’re only wrong because you can’t seem to spot a difference between platforms and representation, not because of some conspiracy to say ‘NO U’ no matter what. And considering in another comment thread you demonstrated that you don’t even understand what a common turn of phrase ‘squeezing something out of the tube’ means, I personally doubt your ability to think and understand what is being presented to you.

Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Re: Your notion of Public Forums is not consistent except with YOU!

Public schools are 1. built by the government 2. managed by the government and 3. funded by the government.

The fact that it is not a governing BODY does not separate it from being a government ENTITY. Any activity run by it constitutes a public forum in the legal sense and therefore the first amendment absolutely applies.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:


“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.”

She KNEW she was REQUIRED to give the speech she submitted for vetting, was warned multiple times to NOT do what she did anyway, and you want us to feel sorry for her? Or vindictive against the school administration for doing EXACTLY WHAT THEY SAID THEY WOULD DO?

This is NO different than a Judge citing someone for Contempt.

It’s EXACTLY the same. Although a Judge usually only gives ONE warning, unlike this case where she was warned multiple times.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Seriously?

There isn’t much value judgment here outside of a first amendment issue (one that’s been mostly settled against minor’s favor), but that this is a typical streisand effect situation, where the party who tried to silence something brought more attention to be only because they tried to silence it.

Which has more impact? A comment that the school needs to do more about sexual assault, or censoring an attempt to say that during the current #metoo social atmosphere and hiding behind “BUT THE RULES SAID…” when it blows up in your face?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Seriously?

“you want us to feel sorry for her? Or vindictive “

As ever with you people, you appear to have completely missed the points actually being discussed. Maybe you wouldn’t be so angry and hateful against this site if you actually took time to process the arguments being made.

The first point is that, being a government institution, the school should really not be telling an invited speaker what to say. If they’re that scared of controversy, pick a different student to speak or find another way to encourage her to change the script she’s following.

The other point is that in choosing not only to silence her, but doing so in the way that they did, they have created far more publicity for the words than if they had done nothing. The act of censorship not only got her to publish the whole thing online, but got many thousands more people over the world to see it, and many, many more being made aware of it through international press.

Nobody’s asking you to feel sorry for the student. They’re asking you to understand that the school was both out of order and have attracted far more attention to the issue they were trying to silence through their own actions. That your takeaway was that the student should have offered nothing but blind obedience says a lot about you, none of it good.

Anonymous Coward says:

lawsuits can be educational

When courts tell school administrators that they can’t control content of speech, administrators often just yank the forum instead.

It happened at my high school when clubs were given the opportunity to paint a mural in a hall. The Junior Statesman/Model-UN club decided to paint an image of the constitution visible through the holes in a burning flag. They had to go to court (with pro-bono attorneys) to get the school to allow it. Shortly thereafter, all murals were painted over and no one was allowed to do that again. In Lulabel’s case, I can imagine the school no longer allowing valedictorian speeches.

While the legal victory seemed short lived for us. It made a lasting impression on me and was one of the most educational experiences I got out of high school. I know it may sound weird, but to this day, no other image stirs patriotic feelings in me more than a burning flag and the freedom of speech it represents.

keithzg (profile) says:

Re: lawsuits can be educational

That’s a really interesting story, and brings up how positive of a teaching lesson such things can be. Sometimes I feel like the most valuable lessons I got in school were in the range and scope of arbitrariness, defensiveness and spinelessness of authority—and also how much a single act can sometimes leave them sputtering.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Why should they take the Constitution seriously? No one else does… most people will happily take a dump on the constitution when it benefits their politics. We are not likely to see a Democrat come to the aid of a falsely persecuted Republican or a Republican come to the aid of a falsely persecuted Democrat.

And that goes the same for sexual assault? The only people taking it seriously are those that it has happened too. Not only they they only take is seriously in one direction too. Assault on females gets marginal attention, assault no males gets no attention, and females falsely accusing males of sexual assault receive special protections and rarely do they get into any trouble for it.

There are many feet to be shot… and more than enough ammo to get the job done several times over! There are for more senseless adults voting than sensible ones.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Some might have heard, now LOTS have

Given how badly the administrators shot their foot here you almost want to think they did it on purpose in order to draw attention to the speech.

I don’t think that’s what happened mind, I think someone panicked and are now finding out how badly they screwed up, but having the speech go from limited to a single class of graduating students to being covered on national tv has you almost wanting to congratulate them on screwing up in such epic fashion.

cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Inability to follow “Simple instructions”? Or inability to tolerate any further oppression by the state? Or unwilling to compromise her personal integrity to protect corrupt authoritarians?
Sure, there are a bunch of shitty companies that don’t want troublemaker capable of independent thought as an employee. But there are plenty of careers in which her strength and bravery bring exponential value to her intelligence. Like journalism and civil rights law.
As much as I hate to make the reference to nazis, it sounds like you think those guys were just following orders…

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Good one, cattress.

In my personal experience, being a problem-solver who plays by my own rules when it suits me has been more of a boon than a bane. Why? Because my “Question All The Things!” attitude helps me to resolve purchase invoice queries and issues with service delivery. Why? Because blind obedience to rules and processes often gets us into those situations in the first place. Being an inquisitive smartalec is what makes me good at my job.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"especially not any experiences with sexual assault."

Do you have any citations for that? What makes you think that adolescents who are in their prime of hormonal development, regardless of experience (or maybe because of their lack of experience) don’t commit sexual assault? Or, have sexual assault committed upon them by similar aged or by older people?

Your lack of observation, along with your lack of sensitivity, combined with your lack of appropriateness makes one think that you might have actual knowledge of high school sexual assault. IMHO. Why do you deny the possibility so strongly?

Bruce C. says:

Re: Re: Re: assault

Glad to see that someone noticed the core issue here, and the whole reason she got censored was because she felt the administration had mishandled cases of sexual assault on campus. The administration of the school has worse problems than a tendency to censorship. A tendency to cover up in general.

NoahVail (profile) says:

Not the Principal's 1st struggle with student speech

It seems Principal David Stirrat has long struggled with what is & isn’t harmful speech.

On February 1 2013, PHS students attending the home basketball game began chanting "USA! USA!." Another student held up a sign that read "Dirty Sanchez," aimed at Angel Sanchez, a Latino basketball player from Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa.

Petaluma High School Principal David Stirrat was at the game, but did not stop the chanting, something he now says he regrets.

"It’s subjective what patriotism is…it takes a bit of time to make that mental leap," he wrote in an email to PHS parents, quoted in the paper. "Personally I regret not stopping the chanting. In my retrospection, I should have guided the students that evening."

ref: https://patch.com/california/petaluma/is-petaluma-an-accepting-and-open-minded-community

Anonymous Coward says:

equal rights under the law

Why should only one graduating student be allowed to give a (unauthorized) speeech?

In fact, everyone getting their diploma that day has a right to stop on stage and give their own (unauthorized) speech, and if the school tries to infringe on that right in any way (including pulling the plug at 4 AM when there are still plenty more speeches to go) then it’s a clear First Amendment violation.

I’m glad that Mike Masnick agrees wholeheartedly with this important free speech principle!

Agammamon says:

Were there a lot of sexual assaults at the school that needed to be exposed?

If not, then what is she doing wasting everyone’s time?

A graduation ceremony is not all about the valedictorian and whatever they want. Its about all the students graduating. Leave them alone and let them enjoy the moment.

Frankly, its kind of a dick move on the kid’s part.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The speech is a speech about these particular students graduating, overcoming difficulties that they have encountered on their way.

One of their shared experiences had been the perceived silencing of victims. She spends a whole sentence on this. Many in the audience appreciate it.

8.24 “even [something] campus on which some people defend perpetrators of sexual assault and silence their victims, we didn’t let that drag us down”

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

If not, then what is she doing wasting everyone’s time?

Giving a graduation speech.

A graduation ceremony is not all about the valedictorian and whatever they want. Its about all the students graduating. Leave them alone and let them enjoy the moment.

If the school doesn’t want the valedictorian to speak at graduation, then it’s well within the school’s rights not to have the valedictorian speak at graduation.

What’s not within the school’s rights is to say that some years the valedictorian gets to give a speech and some years the valedictorian doesn’t, and that decision will be made based on the content of the speech.

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