On September 20, 2016, Brennen Feder posted a #huhchallenge video involving several friends and peers from Catalina Foothills on his personal Twitter account. Before posting this video he not only got permission from the students involved, many of them volunteered to be included and wrote their own phrases. Due to his posting of this video the administration of Catalina Foothills High School suspended Brennen, removed him from his position of student body president and banned him from all homecoming activities in which he had a major role in planning.
The school is punishing Brennen on the grounds of defamation. The definition of defamation is as follows: the action of damaging the good reputation of someone. Fresh U asked many of Feder's peers, friends and those that took part in the video – who preferred to remain anonymous – if they felt they had been subjected to "slander" in the posting and creation of this video. A student who appeared in the video and Feder's long term friend stated, "Absolutely nothing about the video, let alone Brennen, is mean spirited. Anyone that knows Brennen can vouch for me on that claim." Another senior that starred in the video disclosed, "I have been cyber bullied before, a couple years ago through a fake Instagram. I think this is the farthest thing from cyber bullying that I have ever seen and I was not offended in any way."
Although free speech is guaranteed in the United States, this right does change slightly when you enter a school campus. According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, students and teachers do not, "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," but speech is not quite as free inside educational institutions as outside them. With that being said, this does not mean that students and teachers have no first amendment rights at school. But within the educational setting, the right to free speech is implemented in ways that do not interfere with schools’ educational mission. After talking with several students, Fresh U found that students feel not only did this video not disrupt the educational setting in any way, the punishment the administration has implemented has caused a larger disruption than ever.
Many of the students from Catalina Foothills have taken to social media to support Brennen. A fellow senior, Kaitlyn Stump, began a petition for Feder in which she has acquired 200+ signatures through school and online from peers, past graduates and others who side with Feder. She claimed, "Students reacted so positively to the petition, I couldn't believe it. People I had never met before approached me, addressed me by name, and asked to sign the petition. Brennen has given so much to the student body to make our time at Foothills the best that it can be." Not only did his classmates fully support him, but they painted #FreeFeder on their bodies for many of the homecoming events.
After looking into the privacy laws and rules in which schools can use your private accounts as "evidence" in your discipline, Fresh U found that according to the American Civil Liberties Union, "If you use your own device and accounts and your posts are not related to school, your school cannot discipline you for those posts." With this knowledge, Fresh U talked to Brennen about the school's final decision in his punishment. Succeeding a meeting with his parents, administration decided they would not be giving him his presidential office back for the first semester and they would consider a co-presidency for his second semester.
Brennen Feder is owning up to his misjudgments and has released many forms of apology. Although he is, "extremely disappointed that the administration has chosen to be irrational with their decisions," he released this statement on many social media outlets:
"To whom it may concern:
Today I was suspended from Catalina Foothills High School for creating and posting a #huhchallenge video. Every participant gave permission and even volunteered to be in it with the accompanying phrases. I am deeply sorry if this offended anyone in any way, shape, or form. As a result I have to miss all homecoming festivities that I have planned, and have even been demanded to step down from student body president which I have worked so hard to get. No one is perfect, and I accept that this was a misjudgment on my part. However, student body president is not a title I am willing to give up. After everything I have done for this school and student body I ask for your acceptance of my apology and if you believe that I should be able to maintain my status of student body president through out the year please RT and Like."
Brennen Feder is an honest, dedicated and hard-working student and part of the Catalina Foothills community, according to those in his community. Here's hoping his situation can reach a better conclusion.
Lead Image Credit: Jim Wood