Nashville principal sends letter of apology to outspoken student

Thursday, April 2, 1998

Metropolitan Nashville school officials ordered a principal to apologize to a student last week after the teen-ager claimed he was censored for speaking about his high school's drug problems during a city-wide student roundtable discussion.

But Jayah Kawa, 17, said the letter from Hunters Lane High School principal Julie Williams “wasn't much of an apology.”

During a Feb. 18 meeting of Nashville's crime commission, Kawa said school officials spent more time worrying about dress codes than drugs and violence. Williams later pulled Kawa from class to tell him he should have talked to her first before discussing school problems in a public forum.

In her letter, Williams said she in “no way meant to censor your viewpoints” and only wanted Kawa to know what the school is doing to combat drugs and violence at Hunters Lane.

“I sincerely regret that you misunderstood my intention and perhaps some of what I said,” the letter reads. “Nonetheless, I hope that you will continue to participate in the activities of our school whether it be as a student council representative, junior class president or in whatever capacity you are elected to serve.”

Kawa said he wasn't happy with the apology because Williams wrote only because she was told to do so. He said she basically apologized only for Kawa misunderstanding her.

“Don't apologize to me with conditions,” Kawa said. “That doesn't bode well.”

Kawa said that he wants to put the incident behind him and that he's resigned himself to spending the rest of his junior year keeping to himself or only hanging out with his closest friends. He said he still gets dirty looks and comments from some teachers and other students.

“I've really learned who my real friends are,” Kawa said. “It's really unfair and unfortunate. I'd really like to get it over with. I would prefer not to go in that school anymore.”

Bill Wise, director of Nashville-area schools, said Kawa's situation led a group of high school students to ask for a seminar on free-speech issues. Wise said that the students wanted to discuss censorship and their rights as students. Wise said his staff is working with The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center to arrange such a meeting.