A Miller Place High School student is suing the district for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights after he was punished for making an ad-libbed remark about the superintendent’s salary during a variety show.
At the Thursday, March 26 variety show, Kyle Vetrano, senior class president, appeared in a skit poking fun at the high school’s new bathroom policy, which allows one student at a time to use the bathroom in an effort to combat drug use and sales. According to the senior, he improvised the line that later got him into trouble.
“Is this what our superintendent gets paid all that money for? To write bathroom policy,” Vetrano said in the skit.
Following the remark, Vetrano said school administrators told him that he was not allowed to participate in the Friday night performance and was banned from school grounds during the show, as the line was not included in the pre-approved script.
“Kyle exercised his political speech rights, which are not to be violated by any government agency what so ever, including his own school,” Vetrano’s attorney John Ray, of Miller Place, said at a press conference held outside the high school on Thursday.
Vetrano’s mom, Christine, said the district is bullying her son, which is why they decided to take a stand and file the lawsuit.
The high school senior said he told a harmless joke with no malicious intent and was singled out by the district because it was the superintendent he made the remark about. He claims other students also veered off script, but were not reprimanded or punished.
Vetrano said he apologized to Superintendent Marianne Higuera numerous times, but was allegedly told that if he continued to bring up the situation, his senior prom, awards night and graduation privileges could be revoked.
“I think as an American in this country we have a right to freedom of speech and I’m just embarrassed that the district I have been a part of my entire life completely violated my first amendment rights,” Vetrano said.
When reached for comment, the district’s public relations firm, Zimmerman/Edelson, Inc. referred to a letter from Higuera posted on the district’s website.
According to the March 31 letter, students were made aware of the consequences for breaking the rules, which have been consistent year-after-year. Higuera said she was not present at the performance, but was advised of the ad-libbed line.
“This current ad-libbing situation is simply an issue of rules and consequences and not about me as the superintendent,” Higuera stated in the letter.
According to Higuera’s letter, the district will continue to discuss the “one-person at a time” bathroom policy.
About 50 people rallied at the press conference. They marched and held signs in support of the senior.
“What do we want? Free speech!” the crowd shouted as they marched up to the district office.
The family is suing for monetary damages, but has yet to decide on an amount, according to Ray.
“I was the only one who ad-libbed about the superintendent, but my comments were not with any mal-intent,” Vetrano said. “They didn’t call her out by name and they were part of a skit that was completely satirical and comedic in nature.”