Quezon City Science HS students suspended over critical blog

Updates (as of January 16, 2009):

  • The Department of Education regional office has stopped the suspension of the four students.
  • As of Friday (Jan. 16), the principal has sent feelers to the parent of one of the four students that the charges will be dropped provided the student apologizes and would promise never to blog again about the issue.
  • The students’ blogs, which are the supposed subject of the suspension, have not been publicly published online. They are for private viewing. The link in the entry below has been erroneously attributed to them.
  • The students will be going to school on Monday (Jan. 19)
  • The students and their parents will be speaking in a press conference on Tuesday (Jan. 20).

An irate principal suspended four students of the Quezon City Science High School for 10 days over a blog that criticized her new policies in a move that is angering students, alumni and advocates of free speech.

If the students or parents don’t file an appeal, the ten-day suspension starts Monday.

The students were meted the 10-day suspension due to personal blogs critical of the QCSHS principal Dr. Zenaida Panti Sadsad. (N.B. This entry erroneously referred to this link but one of the four students has denied any role in it and said that this blog is not the subject of the suspension meted by Dr. Sadsad.)

While the local education office in Quezon City backed the students’ suspension, another report quoted a Department of Education undersecretary who urged teachers and administrators to respect students’ constitutional right to free expression.

DepEd Undersecretary Franklin Sunga told GMANews.tv that:

We have to be very careful about punishing students for what they are going to write because of the constitutional right of all persons, including the students, the right of the freedom of expression and of the speech. Public officials should not have onion skin. They should be more tolerant about criticism

Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte has not spoken on the issue.

Methinks, the students and parents can win their case if they file an appeal and even if Dr. Sadsad takes them to court. The students were merely exercising their constitutional right to free expression and this has been recognized by the Supreme Court.

In GR L-62270, the Supreme Court ruled that

Petitioners [students] invoke their rights to peaceable assembly and free speech. They are entitled to do so. They enjoy like the rest of the citizens the freedom to express their views and communicate their thoughts to those disposed to listen in gatherings such as was held in this case. They do not, to borrow from the opinion of Justice Fortas in Tinker v. Des Moines Community School District, “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate”

The court also stressed that “while, therefore, the authority of educational institutions over the conduct of students must be recognized, it cannot go so far as to be violative of constitutional safeguards.”

Methinks the students should exercise their right to appeal. They have been wronged and they must not suffer the unjust penalty of suspension for even one hour or one day.

The Commission of Human Rights, now led by Chairwoman Leila de Lima, would most certainly accomodate and assist the embattled students if they decide to seek the CHR’s assistance. Also on hand to assist the students are groups such as the College Editors Guild of the Philippines which has released a statement lambasting the suspension.

“It is disturbing to learn that high school students, in their very young age, are being subjected to this kind of campus repression, their right to freedom of speech and expression undermined,” said CEGP national president Vijae Alquisola.

The CEGP also assailed the QCSHS administration for shutting down the student publications The Electron and Banyuhay and the axing of student publication adviser Mr. Rex San Diego.

Alquisola said that the blog raised valid and legitimate students complaints and added that the students only put put up the blog as a venue to air their demands.

Alquisola lamented the emotional, social and psychological effects of the suspension on the student: “It must surely be a blow to the young ones to be humiliated and treated in such a way. It also sends a wrong and chilling message to other students that in high school, freedom of speech and expression are not recognized.”