Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

How Nick Andre learned/

that writing poetry can/

get you suspended.

How Nick Andre learned/<p>that writing poetry can/</p><p>get you suspended.</p>

vote-to-winNick Andre, who plays defensive end on Rittman High School's football squad, was frustrated by the record his team's compiled this season. So he took out his frustrations by...

Writing a poem.

No, it wasn't the greatest poem ever. "Stupid" (that's the poem's title) won't end up in poetry's hall of fame, if there is such a thing.

But did they have to suspend him for it?

Apparently so. Add "writing poetry" to the list of offenses--like drinking, doing drugs, running a gambling ring--that can get you suspended from school and booted off the gridiron. Nick found that out just this past week when he was suspended for four days and pulled from the team for the rest of the season...because he wrote "Stupid," read it out loud in English class, and found himself cited by Rittman High School's principal for "hazing" and "harassment."

“It’s like wow, just over doing my schoolwork I get in trouble, get thrown off the football team ... (and) get suspended for four days, which could potentially really mess up my grades,” the Ohio 11th grader told a local Cleveland TV station.

But what about Andre's free speech rights under the First Amendment? Glad you asked.

Nick Andre's civics lesson: The limits of free speech in school

The Supreme Court of the United States waded into this issue during the Vietnam War. In a landmark case, Tinker vs. Des Moines, the Court decided that the First Amendment protected the rights of students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War in a public high school. But it also said that such "symbolic speech" can be prohibited by administrators if they could show it would disrupt school activity.

In subsequent cases, though, the high court gave the benefit of the doubt to school officials. In one case, it upheld the right of Washington state high school administrators to discipline a student for delivering a campaign speech laced with sexual innuendo at a school assembly. Later, the justices used that decision to endorse the right of school administrators to censor a student-edited school paper that had criticized school policies concerning student pregnancy.

The upshot: When it comes to the free speech, the Supreme Court gives school administrators considerable space in which to decide just how "free" is "free enough."

Nick Andre reads his poem. Rittman High's football team has a 1-7 record so far this year.

Nick Andre reads his poem to Fox broadcasting's Cleveland affiliate. Rittman High School's football team has a 1-7 record so far this year.

Which brings us back to Rittman High and Nick Andre.

Nick Andre may not be "stupid." But is he a bully?

"Stupid" (Nick's poem, reprinted (Nick's poem, reprinted here) ) doesn't name a specific individual. But it does cite "the inability to separate being a father and a coach," and it refers to a "super star" who drops passes, misses tackles, and is "afraid to take a hit." By all accounts, everyone at Rittman High took this as a reference to coach Bill Dennis. His son, Blake, a Rittman High senior, plans to join the University of Akron football squad next year.

Rittman High principal Nick Evans said the 11th grader "wrote a mean and disrespectful poem about another student and our athletic director/head coach." In short, the principal said, Nick Andre's poem violated the school's zero-tolerance policy against bullying. Nick Andre says, "I felt like it was my right to express what I just felt."

"Stupid" may have been stupid. But was it the act of a bully? Or was it the reasonable expression of free speech?

What's your take? Cast your vote here.

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