Doninger to file libel suit against former principal in wake of free speech case

CONNECTICUT — The mother of a student who was punished lastyear for calling her administrators “douchebags” online said herfamily will file a lawsuit against the school’s principal for libel.

Lauren Doninger, mother of Avery Doninger, said she plans to file thelawsuit next month against Lewis S. Mills High School Principal KarissaNiehoff.

Problems between the Doningers and the Burlington, Conn., high school beganwhen administrators discovered Avery Doninger had referred to them usingoffensive slang in her online journal. She was writing about abattle-of-the-bands concert she believed would be canceled due to”douchebags in central office,” and she encouraged those reading herblog to voice discontent by contacting the superintendent to “piss her offmore.”

As a result of her blog entry, school officials removed her as classsecretary, prompting the Doningers to file a lawsuit claiming free speechviolations. A federal judge and then an appeals court rejected an initial partof the claim in May, ending Avery Doninger’s hope of being reinstated assecretary before graduation. The remaining First Amendment claims arepending.

The media attention surrounding the case has encouraged many individuals toweigh in on the merits of Avery Doninger’s punishment, including a manfrom Wisconsin who e-mailed Niehoff about the case.

Niehoff wrote in reply that prior to the online journal incident,”Avery had repeatedly been warned by her advisor to stop calling thestudent council advisor and members names during her junior class meetings.Thus, this was not the first incident of its kind with Avery.” The manforwarded the correspondence to Lauren Doninger.

The Doningers dispute Niehoff’s assertion.

“She said things to perfect strangers about a 16-year old that justaren’t true,” Lauren Doninger said. “And that’s justintolerable to me.”

Avery Doninger agreed.

“Before this happened, I had always had a good relationship with Ms.Niehoff,” she said. “For her to go ahead and tell people all theselies about me is just upsetting.”

Messages left for Niehoff were not returned Wednesday or Thursday.

Lauren Doninger contacted the superintendent after she learned about theremarks, and Newsday reported Niehoff received two days of unpaidsuspension for the incident.

When Doninger requested the rest of Niehoff’s e-mails related toAvery Doninger using the Freedom of Information Act, she said she found anotherbreach of her daughter’s privacy from last July, which she said shebelieves represents a pattern.

Said Doninger, “I think the irony is so rich. She made ill-consideredremarks and sent them out to cyberspace, and they came back to her. Just likeAvery.”