Tempe, Ariz., school officials yank student’s name from ballot

Wednesday, September 1, 1999

Macy Hanson, a candidate for freshman class president, stood before 500 students last week at McClintock High School in Tempe, Ariz., and launched into a speech about the ineffectiveness of student councils.

He talked about improving the student council to make it an instrument for school change, not just an organizing committee for school dances. He denounced elections as popularity contests and criticized the campaigns of other candidates, including one rival who had passed out leaves as campaign buttons.

Hanson expected a reaction — but not the one he got.

Halfway through Hanson's speech, a student council member took over the microphone to announce that the speeches were over. Later that same day, Aug. 25, school officials removed Hanson's name from the ballot for the next day's election.

“I was really proud of the things that were in it; it was a one-of-a-kind speech,” Hanson said. “And I really hoped that I could put these things into effect. I had no idea that I would be taken off the ballot and that it would erupt into something this big.

“It really raises questions about whether First Amendment rights are protected in school, and obviously mine weren't.”

But Principal Dan Serrano said Hanson's speech was cut short because school officials realized that the freshman hadn't followed election rules. Specifically, Serrano said Hanson failed to attend a required pre-campaign meeting and to submit his speech for approval. He noted that the boy arrived at the election assembly only moments before he was due to speak.

Serrano, who didn't attend the assembly, said Hanson made fun of other candidates in his speech. But he stressed that wasn't the reason student council members pulled the plug.

“I'm not saying that that might not have happened in other circumstances, but it wasn't like he was sitting on stage waiting with his speech,” Serrano said. “He just showed up at the last minute.”

Hanson admitted that he failed to submit his speech in time for approval, blaming it on a broken printer at home. He said he told Linda Moon, the student council sponsor, about the problem, expecting to be disqualified.

“But she said, and I quote, 'It's no problem as long as there's no profanity,' ” he said. “The funny thing is, she's making it out to be a big deal now because it's her only defense.”

Moon didn't return calls left with the school.

Hanson contends that if breaking election rules were the actual reason for removing his name from the ballot, school officials would have ended his candidacy before he started his speech.

“Stopping me in mid-sentence was only an insult to me and very inappropriate,” Hanson said. “If students found [the speech] insulting, they wouldn't vote for me. That would be my punishment.”

As for the mandatory meeting, Hanson said that he and several other candidates, including a few who eventually won their races, thought the meeting was optional.

But Serrano said that all candidates, including Hanson, signed a note before the campaign agreeing to abide by campaign rules, including attending the meeting.

Hanson said he didn't plan to challenge the election or file legal action but said he wouldn't back down on student rights.

“This has really motivated me, motivated me to talk to more people and get the word out so things like this won't happen to other students,” Hanson said. “I can't think of anything more important than free speech on campus.”