Student sign-off during morning announcements raises free speech concerns

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Serra Raquel, Entertainment Editor

Every morning, students are informed of Bear Creek’s upcoming events and news through the daily announcements delivered over the school-wide intercom. Bear Creek’s speech and debate team is responsible for delivering these morning announcements.

Each student creates a clever name for themselves as a sign off. Usually the nicknames are a catchy play on words using the student’s name, such as Elizabeth Malone as “Watermalone,” Nick Crawford as “Crawfish,” Michael Barber as “Magic Mike” and Casey Faamusilli as “Silly Faamusili.”

However, when junior Khaled Alameldin signed off as “the Detonator,” not everyone was entertained. His title raised questions about both free speech and the appropriateness of such a sign-off name.

Because Alameldin is Muslim, some students and staff suspected the name referenced stereotypes.

“I felt that the moniker ‘the Detonator’ sort of alluded to [terrorism] and that concerned me,” social science teacher Jason Johnson said.
Some students believe the name should not be taken seriously.

“I think it is school appropriate because it’s just a joke,” sophomore Nick Goncalves said. “Obviously, he’s not going to do anything about it.”
Alameldin says his sign-off name is not related to his religion or ethnicity.

“My freshman year, I was at a speech and debate tournament and I destroyed my opponent’s case, so the judge gave the name,” Alameldin said.

“It’s not saying anything about his religion, it’s just a name that he wants to use to identify himself,” sophomore Jessica Sandhu said.

Johnson was the first to report a concern regarding Alameldin’s monicker. However, he later withdrew his concerns after speaking with Alameldin.

“I have no problem with someone expressing themselves,” Johnson said. “My bigger concern was for the student using the moniker. I saw it as something that was not school appropriate. This student was very young when 9/11 took place. . . he doesn’t remember all of the disparaging comments and all of the negative, nasty, very anti-Muslim things said. When I became aware that other people weren’t offended by it and didn’t have a problem with it, I dropped it. I certainly wasn’t trying get anyone into trouble. My concern was for him and other Muslim American students who have been the victims of social and verbal abuse over the years. I want to make sure he doesn’t become a target for people making terrorist jokes.”

Johnson had witnessed offensive comments being directed towards one student at a cross country meet, prior to hearing “the Detonator” on the morning announcements.

“One of my student athletes was running at a meet against St. Mary’s High School and there was a Sikh student. . . who was running behind her and the St. Mary’s coach actually yelled out to our athlete, ‘Watch out. There’s a terrorist right behind you.’ I think that’s why I was very sensitive about the topic because that really bothered our student athlete and it bothered her family.”

Johnson later met with Alameldin to discuss the details of his complaint.

“He told me after my concern was voiced that it had nothing to do with that and it had to do with him being at a speech tournament,” Johnson said. “I respect the fact that it doesn’t bother anyone else, so I’ll leave it alone.”

Frank D. LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, explained the legal aspects of Alameldin’s freedom of speech.

“The morning announcements are in a gray area because they sometimes ARE a vehicle of the speech of the school. . . a lot of schools DO have a non-student employee deliver the announcements that isn’t true of the newspaper or yearbook,” LoMonte said in an email response.

The distinction between the morning announcements and the school newspaper is important.

“The newspaper pretty clearly isn’t a vehicle for the speech of the school, it’s clearly a vehicle for the speech of the students,” LoMonte said.
Alameldin could be considered a representation of the school, as well as the Bear Creek speech and debate team.

“That speech carries the ‘imprint’ of the school in a way that newspapers or magazines don’t,” LoMonte added.

Students have the right to freedom of speech, but since all Bear Creek students are required to listen to the morning announcements, it is uncertain if speech during the morning announcements is protected.

“Because you all as students are compelled to listen to the morning announcements, a student’s typical freedom of speech would be limited,” Principal Hillary Harrell said. “That does not, however, mean that students can’t say things that are controversial or thought-provoking or interesting, but we should be more cautious.”

Principal Harrell met with Alameldin and explained she was not intending to probit him from using the name.

“I do not have evidence that it is causing a safety concern on campus,” Harrell said.

However, Harrell wants to make sure all students are aware of what they are saying and how it affects others.

“Words have power and they can move people in a variety of ways,” Harrell said. “We all have reason for why we speak and what I would hope to teach our students here is that your voice matters, your voice has impact, and if someone objects to what you say, step back and listen.”