Last week, 17-year-old Noah Christiansen decided to partake in the national walkout, along with other students across the nation, to call for gun control.
Christiansen used that time to call the office of his Congressman, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) to urge him to vote for gun control legislation. The student spoke with one of Amodei's staff members about the need for stricter gun control laws. During the conversation, Christiansen allowed a curse word to drop.
He said Congress needed to "get off their [expletive] asses" and act to prevent further gun violence, the Los Angeles Times reported.
A few hours after the conversation, Christiansen learned he had been suspended for two days. The reasoning? Amodei's staffer called the school to let them know about the conservation that transpired.
The Robert McQueen High School junior was suspended for two days "for being disrespectful and insubordinate." He was also removed from his position as secretary/treasurer for the school's student body government.
The ACLU Gets Involved
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada (ACLUNV) wrote a letter to both the school and the school district asking for Christiansen to be reinstated and the suspension sponged from his record.
Noah’s political speech occurred while he was participating in the national school walk-out on March 14th. This walk-outwas not a school sponsored activity, and in fact, Noah received an unexcused tardy for participating. Moreover, Noah’s activity did not disturb or impact any aspect of the educational environment. The only reason RMHS administration even discovered that Noah made this call is because someone from Congressman Amodei’s office called the school in what can only be considered retaliation for expressing his political viewpoint tothe Congressman.
According to the ACLUNV, Christiansen's punishment is unconstitutional:
The punishment imposed on Noah’s political speech in this situation violates the First Amendment of the United State Constitution, and is unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by RMHS. Moreover, disciplining a student and permanently damaging their future college prospects because they actively participated in democracy will have a chilling effect on other students who are considering engaging in the political process. In a time when students across the county are expressing their views about matters at the forefront of our national political discourse, schools should be especially mindful of their roles in educating young people as citizens and should not “strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.”
According to KRNV-TV, Christiansen has a simple request:
"All I want is for this suspension to be overturned and to take my place as class secretary, so I can move on to college with my record restored. I've never even had a detention before let alone a suspension," Christiansen wrote in a written statement provided by the ACLU.
The Washoe County School District provided KRNV with the following statement from WCSD spokeswoman Victoria Campbell:
The Washoe County School District honors, respects and adheres to the First Amendment of our U.S. Constitution. It is within this context that thousands of our students respectfully and appropriately used their First Amendment rights by participating in walk out actions on several of our campuses on March 14th as well as participated in dozens of other school-sanctioned activities related to this national movement.
No students were suspended for participation in walk out events on March 14. However, the District cannot discuss specific discipline of individual students due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
The District expects students to act appropriately and with decorum. Some students were disciplined for breaking student conduct codes or participating in other inappropriate behavior.
The Congressman's Response
Congressman Amodei has defended his staffer, Arturo Garzon, and Garzon's decision to call the school.
“I’m not apologizing because my guy accurately described what happened in the phone call," Armodei told The Nevada Independent. “He related the guy was vulgar. He didn’t ask [the school] for any specific thing or beat the kid up. He just said ‘I wanted you know that this guy was really vulgar. We had a lot of calls and nobody else was,’ and that was it.”
According to Amodei, his staff receives a number of phone calls, many of which are from unsatisfied constituents.
“This is not a creampuff business,” Amodei said. “My people take a lot of stuff from people who are unhappy, so it’s not as if there is a tripwire there.”