This past March, a panel chosen by Governor Mitt Romney cleared the DSS of wrongdoing, even though social workers had chosen to believe her stepfather’s and adoptive mother’s claims that the numerous injuries she had suffered over the years were self-inflicted. The adoptive mother, Holli Strickland, was Avrett’s half-sister; it was she who originally accused Avrett and her then-boyfriend of abusing Haleigh. (Avrett has denied those accusations.) Holli Strickland and her grandmother died in an apparent murder-suicide shortly after Haleigh’s final beating.

Murphy, enraged by the panel’s report, accused the DSS of “criminal negligence.” Avrett did not speak. She couldn’t, lest she lose her visitation rights — not to mention her hope of winning a greater say in her daughter’s care.

CLASS IN SESSION: The Secret Service was called in to check up on a seventh-grader.
West Warwick Public Schools
Calls in the Secret Service to grill a seventh-grader
No doubt there was cause for some concern last February when a seventh-grader at the Deering Middle School, in West Warwick, Rhode Island, turned in an essay describing his “perfect day.” Among other things, he wrote that he’d like to do violence to “corporate America and the evil agencies of which the president, George W. Bush, is in charge of.” For good measure, he said he’d like to kill Oprah Winfrey.

But matters soon escalated. His teacher gave the essay to a social worker at the school. Somehow the essay ended up in the hands of a uniformed police officer who’s assigned to Deering. Next the Secret Service, charged with protecting the life of the president, was notified. And, soon, two Secret Service agents were interrogating the boy and interviewing school personnel.

What happened in West Warwick wasn’t so much a matter of any one person doing the wrong thing, as it was a systemic overreaction to an adolescent with the sort of violent, vivid imagination not uncommon at that age. The boy was not punished, although he was told to stay home from school for a few days. The superintendent of schools, David Raiche, said all the right things, including this: “My focus is not on the discipline side but the mental-health side.”

Nevertheless, the fact remains that an adolescent boy was subjected to questioning by the Secret Service for writing an essay that expressed strong political views — the very purpose of the constitutional guarantee of free expression. If he has not learned to express himself in a way that’s socially acceptable, it’s hard to see how that makes him any different from, say, Ann Coulter.

In a statement, the ACLU of Rhode Island called the decision to summon the police and the Secret Service “a significant and inappropriate intrusion on the young student’s First Amendment rights. This sends a disturbing educational message to other students — steer away from any violent themes in writing assignments, or else run the risk of being interrogated by the police.”

Sounds like a good topic for Oprah.

Jehuda Reinharz
Brandeis president defends censoring Palestinian art
No one would confuse “Voices from Palestine” with a fair and balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Produced by Palestinian teenagers and brought to Brandeis University this spring by a Brandeis student, Lior Halperin, the art exhibit was clearly intended to depict the Palestinian point of view.

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