Dy’er Sez: Although the title above sounds silly, it briefly sums up a situation which has been brewing in Danvers High School in Massachusetts.

Apparently, the story goes something like this:

School principal, Thomas Murray, came across some information on Facebook which led him to believe that his students had planned a conspiracy to ‘mass-meep’ in one part of the school building. Murray seemed to think that such an action could be a huge detriment to his school (wars have been started for less, right?), so he took immediate and decisive action and notified the parents (via automated phone message)of all students who attend his school that the punishment for uttering the dreaded syllable would be grounds for an immediate suspension.

In an interview with the Salem News, Murray said the matter should be a ‘wake-up call’ to parents about what their kids are up to on social networking sites; to that end he is planning a school forum for parents on the pitfalls of face book.

But wait, there’s more.

New York based attorney, Theodora Michaels, got wind of the story and sent the following letter to administrators at the school:

An open letter to Principal Murray of Danvers High School (MA):


Theodora Michaels

The response from the school was fast and furious. According to Ms. Michaels, she received a reply from Assistant principal Mark Strout which informed her that her ‘meep-mail’ had been forwarded to the Danvers Police Department. In an excerpt from an article about the meeping situation posted on her site, she mused:

“LOLwut? That simultaneously annoyed and amused me enough to write this article. (Plus, my train was late.)

First, apparently this school doesn’t know how email works. If they don’t like getting emails that say “meep” — and I’m assuming they got others before they got mine — it should be a simple matter for the school’s IT person to set their email program to filter all external emails that say meep and send them straight into the trash. Then there’d be no need to even look at them, let alone reply to or forward them.

Second, apparently they don’t know how the law works. I haven’t researched Massachusetts law, but I’m assuming there’s no law that would prevent me from sending a single, non-commercial email, containing a single nonsense “word” (but impliedly relating to their work as school officials) to adults at their publicly-posted work emails. And if there were such a law, it would not survive a constitutional challenge. So I don’t understand the point of Mr. Strout’s email, unless he’s hoping to scare me into — what, not emailing “meep” ever again? Or more generally not criticizing his performance as a school official?

Gee, I’m scared — maybe the Danvers police will come to NYC to arrest me! I guess they’ll also try to extradite people who (I’m guessing) sent emails from other countries. We can be charged with . . . what, first degree meeping? Yeah, good luck with that.

Third, and most important, Messrs. Murray and Strout don’t understand human nature. People — especially teenagers — don’t like following pointless rules. To the point where they’ll go out of their way to rebel against them (and I took five seconds out of my busy day), even if said rebellion itself is rather pointless. I get nothing out of saying meep. But I will vigorously defend my — and others’ — right to say it.”

To say that the whole thing seems absolutely and childishly ludicrous on its face would be an extreme understatement.

I fully understand that school administrators face a great many challenges on a daily basis, ranging from finances, human resource issues, academic issues, and so on. It’s not an easy ship to run, so to speak, and any successful school owes a great debt of gratitude not only to the teachers but to the administrators who oversee the process of education as well. I am also fully aware that sometimes a principal is required to make some decision which may proove unpopular with the student body; the principal is well within his bailiwick to do what is necessary to both protect his students (and teachers) as well as make sure that there is no disruption in the educational process.

With that being said, I am hard pressed to find any grounds to agree with the administrators of Danvers High School. With all the problems that a school can have – drugs, violence, academic underachieving, and so on – this apparently harmless high school prank has been blown way out of proportion. What this principal (who appears to be more than a tad over his head in his position or has a severe case of little-man syndrome, in my opinion) is doing is showing the students that the law of the land is made up of nothing more than arbitrary decisions by men in suits and ties with no questioning or recourse for any decisions made. That’s simply not the way it is or should be, both in or out of school.

And if the principal thinks that this conspiracy to meep is worthy of a lesson to parents on the pitfalls of their children’s use of social networking sites, then my reply is that the principals understanding of the possible dangers of the internet in general are woefully shallow and inadequate for him to make such a broad assumption. While I applaud the fact that he has taken it upon himself to utilize the same technology as his students in order to keep abreast of what is going on with the student body, I have to say that his conclusions are clearly indicative of someone who has only a slim grasp of real and serious concerns over teenagers and the web. And if he is using this argument simply to cover his ass, then he is intentionally marginalizing a subject which should be take very seriously by educators, school administrators, parents as well as students.

Additionally, concerning the threat of ‘law enforcement action’ against Ms. Michaels, this is a clear indication that the administrators are themselves hard pressed to defend their actions  and have to rely on an legally empty threats in order to cajole or frighten someone who decided to let them know that their heavy handed approach is more than a little uncalled for. Additionally, by sending this e-mail on to the local PD, time that could have been spent going after people who have actually broken a law is instead spent on, well, foolishness.

In the future the principal (and his staff) need to take a closer look at the potential aftereffects of their actions. While I don’t expect that a school administrator make all of their decisions with one eye behind them watching their own backs, this napoleon-like posturing (which seems to be little more than an exercise in “Look at me, look at me – I am in charge, look at me!”) has done nothing more than disrupt the student body, made the administrators involved look more like major power-mongering fools concerned with enforcing the respect of their station and less like serious minded educators who have the best interest of the school as their first priority, and have clearly set the stage for an adversarial ‘us vs. them’ attitude between the staff and the students – something that can only become a detriment to the education process for all concerned.

(Thanks to Constitutional Law Scholar, Jonathan Turley, for bringing attention to this story)

This entry was posted in Civil liberties/rights, Commentary, Education, Free Speech, Strange & Interesting. Bookmark the permalink.

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