Smoked out

A Providence, RI sophomore who photographed his principal smoking outside a school door, in violation of state law, was suspended for posting the photos on his web site, which criticizes the Central High administration. Now, thanks to the ACLU, the student is back in school; the suspension is erased from his record. Principal Elaine Almagno was reprimanded by the superintendent for smoking on school grounds.

The Providence Journal story, which requires registration, says Eliazar Velasquez handed out fliers at school with a link to his site:

“This is a principal we’re talking about. She is a leader. And here we caught her smoking on school grounds; breaking the law. . . . We feel that Ms. Almagno is not suited to be principal of Central High School. Don’t take my word for it. I have pictures!”

The student was called to the principal’s office and asked who helped design the web site. The school police officer searched his book bag.

There, she found the fliers, which said, “Wanna see Mrs. Almagno take part in some illegal activities? Wanna see her breaking the law on school property? Go to”

Threatened with slander charges, the student deleted the photos but didn’t know how to take down the whole site, which the principal had demanded.

That same day, Harold Metts, the assistant principal and also a Democratic state representative, told Velasquez he was suspended. A disciplinary hearing was set for tomorrow at 1 p.m.

In a letter to Velasquez’s parents, Metts wrote that the teenager was being punished for harassing and slandering the principal and the dean of students, John Hunt. Velasquez had taken a memo written by Hunt, circled a couple of grammatical errors, then posted copies of the memo around the school.

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” Velasquez wrote. “He doesn’t know the difference between there, their and they’re.”

The principal told the Journal Velasquez was suspended for “an extreme disruption of teaching and learning.” He seems to have understood the lesson on First Amendment rights.

Thanks to Michael McKeown for the tip.

From the Journal’s update story:

(Superintendent Melody) Johnson said while students have a right to voice their concerns, the schools have a role in educating them “about respectful, constructive ways to do so.”

She said the student is being counseled in “appropriate ways to express disagreement, deal with conflict and reach resolutions.”

First lesson: Don’t emulate your principal.

About Joanne


  1. D Anghelone says:

    Everyone knows you smoke in the mop closet.

  2. One way to avoid looking like a fool in front of your students is not to be one.

  3. BadaBing says:

    Need a nicotine fix? Chew Red Man and purge the residue into a styrofoam cup, which you hold like you would a cup of coffee. Pretend to take a sip of coffee, but spit (discreetly) instead. Problem solved.

  4. Matthew Tabor says:

    … am I going to be the first to point out that something isn’t slanderous if it’s true? I’m shocked at the constant misinterpretation and misapplication of slander charges. If I gave out flyers that said Bill Clinton cheated on his wife, it wouldn’t be slanderous.

    It’s a real pisser when you’re held accountable and embarassed, but… it isn’t slander.

  5. Andy Freeman says:

    > … am I going to be the first to point out that something isn’t slanderous if it’s true?

    The “truth” exemption is only in the US and we’re starting to apply international norms.

  6. Steve LaBonne says:

    That principal should have been fired for trying to cover her ass at the expense of a student. That tells you eerything you need to know about her fitness to work with kids.

  7. It never ceases to amaze me how we apply our constitional rights only to those of the age of majority. A young man observed and recorded illegal activity and was not only chastised but threatened by legal action by exercising his right to free speech. Had he been a journalist things would have been quite different. It saddens me the alleged offender only received a slap on the hand for breaking the law so blatantly in a place where our children are taught and influenced. What did the students learn at her guidance?

  8. “… am I going to be the first to point out that something isn’t slanderous if it’s true?”

    The “truth” exemption is only in the US and we’re starting to apply international norms.

    BZZZZT!! Sorry, wrong. The difference between the US and the rest of the common-law world with respect to defamation (libel and slander), imposed by the First Amendment, is twofold. First, the point you’re confused on: truth always matters, but the difference is where the burden of proof lies. In the US, falsehood is an ELEMENT of the tort of defamation, meaning that the plaintiff bears the burden of proving it; everywhere else, truth is an affirmative defense, placing the burden of proof on the defendant.

    The other difference is with respect to intent: in the US, one must show “actual malice” on the part of the defendant, i.e., that he, she or it either knew it was false, or acted with reckless (not just ordinarily negligent) disregard for its truth or falsehood.