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article imageMass. student punished for writing pro-democracy notes

By Martin Laine     Jun 7, 2014 in Politics
An American exchange student in China got into a bit of hot water when he wrote some pro-democracy phrases in another student’s notebook.
It didn’t end there.
Officials at the school he was attending took a dim view of the incident and gave him detention.
When 18-year-old Henry DeGroot of Newton, Mass., a senior at Newton North High School returned from his semester abroad, school officials there reprimanded him and told him he would not be permitted to attend his prom, according to an article in the Boston Globe.
DeGroot was one of eight students on a four-month exchange program with the Beijing Jingshan School. The incident took place at another school outside Beijing the students were visiting. He said he was exercising his right to free speech.
DeGroot recalled he wrote phrases like, “democracy is for cool kids,” “it’s right to rebel” and “don’t believe the lies your school and government tell you.”
As punishment, he had to stay behind in detention as his classmates went on another field trip.
The situation became more complicated when DeGroot was asked to write a letter of apology, which he did, except he added an explanation for his action.
“I felt as a human being on this planet I have an inalienable right to free speech if I’m doing it in a non-vulgar, appropriate way as this private conversation was,” DeGroot said. He was asked to re-write the letter, without the explanation. He did, but then refused to deliver it.
Newton school officials say he broke the rules.
DeGroot said the Newton school system taught him the importance of civil disobedience, and to freely speak his mind. He says the school is now abridging his rights.
“We certainly want our students to be thoughtful and critical thinkers,” said Newton school superintendent David Fleishman. “We encourage that, and we pride ourselves on giving students that opportunity. But this is not about free speech.”
The problem, according to Fleishman, is that he violated the exchange program’s code of conduct. The principal of the Chinese school was described as “highly insulted,” and school officials in Newton are afraid the incident could jeopardize the long-standing relationship between the two schools, which dates back to 1979.
A telephone meeting meeting between officials from both school is scheduled for June 12 to discuss the matter.
As for DeGroot and his prom date, they put on their formal wear and went to a local burger restaurant.
More about Newton North HS, Free speech, Jingshan school
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