American Heroes: Emma Sullivan

Emma Sullivan; a true American Hero.

     I simply love it when one of our young people displays courage in the face of adversity. I love it when they stand up to authority, give them the finger and say, “No, I’m not going to be cowed simply by virtue of your position over me.” Instead, they take a stand for what they know and believe to be right, and come out winning. That’s eighteen-year-old Emma Sullivan, of Prairie Village, Kansas.(1)

     It seems that Miss Sullivan does not like the current governor of Kansas, Republican Sam Brownback. As a matter of fact, not a lot of people like Governor Brownback these days. His approval rating stands at just forty-seven percent as of four months ago, according to a SurveyUSA poll from that timeframe.(2) But I digress. Last week, Miss Sullivan was among several from her school that went on a field trip to Topeka, as part of the “Youth in Government” program. During the trip, she tweeted back to her sixty-or-so followers that she had, “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

Emma's original tweet

     It also seems that Governor Brownback has his own little version of “Big Brother” working for him. An aide to the governor, one Sherriene Jones-Sontag serves as his Director of Communications. One of her job duties is to monitor the internet for anything referring to the governor that would cast him in a negative light. Ms. Jones-Sontag came across Emma’s little fifteen-word tweet, and sprang into action. She phoned the organisers of Youth in Government, they in turn phoned the administration at Shawnee Mission East High School back in Prairie Village. Once Emma Sullivan returned to the school, she was called to the principal’s office, and chided for almost an hour. The chiding culminated in the principal demanding that Emma write a letter of apology to the governor, by the following Monday (yesterday.) Sullivan announced her refusal on Sunday, citing her right to free speech under the First Amendment.

     Now, I’m not at all sure how the wider media became aware of this situation, but on Monday afternoon the governor’s office backed down, and so did the school.(3) 

     (SOAPBOX=ON) If I were a Kansas voter, this would kill any chances that I would ever vote for this joker again. Any government entity that would while unchecked, seek to stifle free speech is a danger to Democracy. I would also press for greater oversight of the principal of the high school. Evidently, he also thinks that he can intimidate students and stifle freedoms. Someone needs to school that man on In re Gault (387 U.S. 1, 1967) and Tinker v. Des Moines ICSD (393 U.S. 503, 1969). (Not that it would do much good, my own kids have also had their free speech rights challenged by the schools here.)

     In any case, freedom and justice won. Emma Sullivan won. She stood up to the “establishment” in fine form, and came out smelling like a dozen roses. To Emma Sullivan, I give my official Cybersattva “Komapsumnida!” for keeping freedom alive.

Single-digit freedom widget

     To Sam Brownback and his staff, I present a different mode of “digital communication,” the Freedom Salute: (and since Ms. Jones-Sontag is monitoring the internet for Governor Brownback, I’m sure the message will reach its intended recipients!)

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3 comments on “American Heroes: Emma Sullivan

  1. Hi,

    Working off of the misinformation found printed in the media, strong conclusion. However, it is impertinent [sic] that you benefit from the students’ perspective.
    http://smeharbinger.net/opinion/blogs/team-east

    Thanks and have a great day!

    (Editor’s note: I believe the word that Ms. Donovan was reaching for was “important.”)

    • Ms. Donovan:

      Thank you for chiming in on this subject from the perspective of another student at Shawnee. It appears however, that your perspective may be heavily biased against Emma Sullivan and in favor of the school and its administration. Quoted from your SMEHS Harbinger article:

      “The student herself has become controversial within the school. While there is some empathy in the air, much of the student body is overwhelmingly disappointed.”

      What you have to remember Ms. Donovan, is that the rest of us are looking from the outside-in. Dr. Krawitz’s statement that this “is a school issue, a private issue, not a public matter.” is sorely misguided, secretive in its intent and just plain WRONG. If everyone felt that way, we would not have SCOTUS precedence such as In re Gault and Tinker v. Des Moines ICSD in place, protecting your rights to free speech. The attempted, or even implied infringement of a student’s constitutional rights is a very public matter, and rightly so.

      I won’t question your assertion that Dr. Krawitz has your best interests at heart. From what you’ve posited in your article, he seems like a great guy. After everything is said and done, this entire situation should be viewed as a teachable moment, for everyone involved.

    • One of the things I tend to do is visit, revisit and revisit again items of importance that come across the blogosphere. After reading and re-reading the linked blog article by Emily Donovan, some things started to stand out. These are items that I’m now prepared to comment on…

      First, she writes in the article that;

      “The students and their privacy have always been Dr. K’s primary concern. His public statement to the media has been, “It is a school issue, a private issue, not a public matter.””

      As I stated in my previous reply, when there’s a question of a school administrator infringing on a student’s constitutional rights, then it becomes a public matter. Dr. Krawitz is a public employee, and as such is subject to public scruitiny. Our tax dollars (or more specifically, the tax dollars of the Shawnee, KS citizenry) pay his salary. I find Ms. Donovan’s support of Dr. Krawitz’s alleged statement troubling.

      She also makes the assertion that;

      “Concerned citizens are voicing their opinions all the wrong ways, in all of the wrong places.”

      A pretty presumptuous statement if there ever was one. Granted that several “concerned citizens” have inundated the school with angered calls and emails, and those particular people are definitely being counterproductive. I would however, caution Ms. Donovan from making such blatantly “blanket” statements regarding the public at-large. I for one, am voicing my opinion in my venue, in a way that I see fit. I have not attacked Shawnee Mission East High School as a whole, nor will I. My main concern is that Dr. Krawitz is acutely aware that Ms. Sullivan and the rest of her classmates have rights. I would respectfully ask Ms. Donovan that, if this is not the correct venue in her educated opinion, then in what venue would she prefer that I express these opinions?

      Next, an assertion that;

      “Within Shawnee Mission East, we all seem to know that Dr. Krawitz held a 15-minute meeting in his office with a school administrator acting as a witness where he explained how disrespect misrepresented the school and recommended writing a letter of apology to the governor, the teacher sponsor and the district coordinator, without making demands or threatening punishment.”

      This one I don’t need to counter. In the comments section of the article, a user identifying themselves as “EmmaSullivansMom” refutes this entirely;

      “Emma was in Dr. K’s office longer than you reported. Dr. K slammed his fist on the desk several times, didn’t let Emma speak and she left their sobbing. Upon my conversation with him personally I was told that Emma will be punished and told that he will be talking to Mr. Tate about taking her off yearbook. Would have been a good idea to get the facts on this from the other side if you want true honesty to prevail in journalism. I wish everyone was more interested in the fact that Gov. Brownback was not tweeted personally, so it was not disrespectful TO him, just ABOUT him. THAT is what the First Amendment is ALL about!!!!”

      Are we starting to get the picture here? Folks, the “spin controls” should not be manned by students who express an obvious bias towards the faculty. Right now, it’s not aiding the cause of reconciliation in the least. Quite the opposite, Ms. Donovan is painting the school as a “victim,” as she puts it, in this whole situation. She states that, “The sentiment is clear: the inaccuracies and gaps in the published reports are jeopardizing the school.” I would like to know in what way does Ms. Donovan perceive that the school is being “jeopardized.” Loss of funding? Payroll cuts? No new books next year? Come on, throw us a bone here.

      In addition, she paints a picture of Emma Sullivan being somewhat of a controversial figure among the rest of the student body, while conceding the idea that there is also some empathy for her (Ms. Sullivan’s) position. (I do believe this is a polite way of saying that, in the author’s informed opinion, a lot of people don’t like Emma because of what she’s done.)

      Well, this is one blogger who likes Emma. In fact, my opinion of her as a true American hero has only been reinforced by seeing the negative spin (media blame, which eventually circles back around to Emma. While the school declined face interviews, Emma has braved the media spotlight that this has wrought!) that her own school weblog is being allowed to spread about the issue, while she maintains a “chin up” throughout. Ms. Donovan, welcome to the wider world of internet journalism and OpEd blogging!

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