RITTMAN, Ohio– 16-year-old Nick Andre says his assignment last Friday in composition class at Rittman High School was to write a poem about something that makes him angry.
The junior defensive end on the Rittman football team chose to write a poem he entitled “Stupid,” about the Indians season so far, which has consisted of one win and seven losses. Andre told FOX 8, “I felt like it was my right to express what I just felt.”
As part of the assignment, Andre read the poem in class and when the administration at Rittman High learned about the content, the principal concluded that Andre, “Wrote a mean and disrespectful poem about another student and our athletic director/head coach.” The principal classified the poem as “hazing, harassment.”
In response, Andre told FOX 8, “Who am I harassing or hazing? I mean I didn’t state any names.”
He was stunned when the school suspended him for four days, and removed him from the football team for the final two games of the season. “It’s like wow, just over doing my school work, I get in trouble, get thrown off the football team, you know get suspended for four days, which could potentially really mess up my grades,” he said.
Nick Andre’s mother says during a meeting with the principal on Monday, she refused to sign the suspension letter. Julie Andre said, “All he could refer to was bullying. This poem was bullying, and my comment was, ‘why would the teacher entertain this assignment because you know, you don’t know what you may get from teenage kids, so to me, I couldn’t understand bullying.”
Cleveland Civil Rights Attorney Avery Friedman, who has won a number of cases involving students who were disciplined for expressing their opinions, says he believes Nick Andre’s rights have been violated. “The breadth of expression, even in public schools, is virtually limitless, unless speech is creating material disruption to the educational process, which certainly isn’t here,” said Friedman.
We contacted the superintendent of the Rittman School District about the suspension of Nick Andre and he declined comment, as did the head football coach.