Cheerleader Brohaha Attracts National Focus, First Amendment Issues

It was only 14 words that Revere High School (RHS) senior Caley Godino Tweeted out a month ago, but that little sentence unleashed a cavalcade of words, diatribes, threats, demands, frustrations and racial slurs from a nationwide audience that has focused in on the Revere incident and spread its details to the far ends of the Earth.

After the story first appeared in the Journal on Nov. 11, and then was followed up on Nov. 18, the national media has descended upon the City and barraged the schools, City Hall, elected officials and Godino’s family with phone calls, mostly defending the cheerleader and her First Amendment rights.

On Nov. 4, Godino received a Tweet from a civics teacher at RHS about low voter turnout in the Revere mayoral race.

She responded with the following 14 words, “When only 10% of Revere votes for mayor cause the other 90% isn’t legal.”

That ignited a surge of social media backlash that resulted in racial slurs against Godino and threats of violence. Administrators were none too happy with her choice words, as was her mother, Lauren Kelly. Originally, Godino was going to have to take a cultural sensitivity class, as were the students who threatened  her and made inappropriate comments about her and about white people in general.

Then, the following day, everything changed and Godino ended up on social probation – toppled from her captain’s post on the cheerleading team and prohibited from participating or even attending school events. That probation ended this week, but the furor over her suspension – and the lack of a suspension for other students – for the Tweet and its reactions has continued on passionately.

Some have called for Kelly’s resignation, as well as the resignations of RHS Principal Lourenco Garcia and Vice Principal Steve Pechinsky.

This week, Supt. Dianne Kelly said she would not be stepping down, nor would anyone else.

“I will not,” she said Tuesday. “Dr. Garcia and Vice Principal Pechinsky will not be stepping down either. I support both of them fully.”

She said she works for the School Committee and they are supportive of her and the rest of the administration.

“The School Committee is very supportive,” she said. “They understand complicated issues shouldn’t be settled in the media.”

Kelly said there is more to the story, but part of the story regards student discipline and she is barred from discussing such matters in public.

Godino’s mother, Lauren Kelly (no relation) said the “more to the story” piece revolves around her daughter leaving a gym class the day after the Tweet incident. She said her daughter left the class because she was scared and was getting negative reactions from other students. She sought refuge with a family friend who works in the school. Now, Lauren Kelly said the schools are using that incident as justification for the suspension – a technicality that is supported by the Student Handbook, she said.

“Even though it’s wrong to leave class, my daughter reacted,” said Lauren Kelly. “She didn’t do it because she wanted to skip class. She felt terrified and uncomfortable. Is a child supposed to know how to properly react in that situation? Is it punishable to leave for being in fear? Initially, they were empathetic and understanding and this wasn’t even an issue. Then, all the sudden, it became the reason for her punishment…They’re using the whole gym class incident as their back up for Caley’s punishment once the spotlight came down on them. I have to say, that’s clever of (Dr. Kelly) because it’s in black and white in the Student Handbook, but they are punishing a child because she was scared.”

Lauren Kelly said she and her daughter have been fighting for First Amendment rights, and they are glad they spoke up.

“This was not a punishable offense,” she said. “If they were going to punish every child in the school for a Tweet that had an impact on another child, I think every single child in the school should be punished. If that’s the goal, it’s completely ridiculous and has no common sense to it. At this point, Caley and I have made our point. We’ve commented to the Revere Journal and to other media to let our voices be heard…to let the public know how the Revere Public Schools are handling these incidents.”

Lauren Kelly said her experience with the superintendent is limited, as is her experience with the two principals, but she said based on how they handled her situation, she would support their resignation.

“I don’t know a lot about Dr. Garcia and Dr. Kelly, but I only know my experience with this situation,” she said. “Based on my experience with this situation, if they handle all other student matters this unprofessionally, then yes, I think they should resign.”

Others are trying to find out if that’s necessary as well, with Councillor Tony Zambuto calling for Dr. Kelly and Dr. Garcia to appear before the Revere City Council next week to provide that body with information.

“I need more information first,” said Zambuto. “I don’t call for resignations from the hip. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt now. We’ll take it a step at a time. If the facts are what I have now, then I probably will be calling for their resignations, but we’ll take it a step at a time. If you’re going to take punitive action, you have to take it on everyone…This seems pretty one sided. If you look at the country, that’s what’s going on. There are special First Amendment rights for certain people and I’m very angry that might be going on at RHS.”

Councillor-elect George Rotondo has also sounded off on the issue, calling for Dr. Kelly’s resignation in the Journal last week.

“When the Godino family sues the City of Revere for their Constitutional rights being violated, what are the ramifications for Principal Garcia, Principal Mitchell, Principal Pechinsky and Supt. Kelly if they cost the City millions of dollars?” he asked. “A rule in the handbook is not law and allowing bullying to take place is also a problem. What troubles me the most is when you have public officials and a former state rep character assassinating a 17-year-old girl for political correctness, something is seriously wrong.”

School Committee Vice Chair Michael Ferrante said he doesn’t see the School Committee supporting any resignations.

“I’d like to know how the City Council is going to fire Dr. Kelly and Dr. Garcia,” he said. “What authority do they have? They have no authority. This is a School Committee issue and I don’t know why the Council is getting involved. I don’t see either one of them leaving right now. Where is it they’re going with this? Because you don’t get what you want, people should resign and leave their jobs? Let’s all be adults here.”

He said there is a School Committee meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 8, but he said there is currently nothing on the agenda about this matter.

Dr. Kelly said she feels that the situation is winding down, and would have probably ended had it not been for the Council motion on Monday.

“I’d like for it to be done,” she said. “I’ve received numerous inquiries from all over the world. I think it would have been done if the Council hadn’t made that motion. Monday Caley completed her social probation and I understand she’s trying out for winter sports now. In my mind, it could be finished except no one wants it to be finished.”

Lauren Kelly said she and her daughter are ready to resume their lives, but they didn’t shrink back.

“I’m not a person to make situations bigger than necessary,” she said. “I don’t go after the media. I’m a very neutral person. The reason I stood up is in my heart of hearts, I felt my daughter was done wrong. Every single detail that Caley and I have provided is 100 percent factual and 100 percent truthful…At this point we’re trying our best to resume and move on.”

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