Florida student suing over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law says school is trying to censor his graduation speech
SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Zander Moricz is the senior class president at Pine View School in Florida’s Sarasota County. He’s set to speak at his upcoming high school graduation, but Moricz claims his principal and school administration officials are trying to preemptively silence him and censor his speech.
Moricz is also one of the plaintiffs named in a lawsuit against the State of Florida relating to its recently signed Parental Rights in Education law, or what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
“A few days ago, my principal called me into his office and informed me that if my graduation speech referenced my activism or role as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, school administration had a signal to cut off my microphone, end my speech, and halt the ceremony,” wrote Moricz on Twitter. “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history — this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”
The Florida-based Social Equity and Education Initiative campaign launched a petition in response, raising support to #LetZanderSpeak. It has already gained more than 5,600 signatures.
Christopher Covelli, the vice president of the non-profit group Project Pride, says he’s standing with the teen.
“An educator means you educate, you don’t silence people. Silencing him is wrong. It is against everything that Americans live for. It is called freedom of speech,” said Covelli.
WFLA contacted Sarasota County Schools for comment regarding the student’s claims that school leaders at Pine View are threatening to cut off his microphone if he speaks about certain topics during his graduation speech.
In the lengthy statement, the school district confirmed that students are instructed not to make “personal political statements,” but claimed that Moricz’s speech had not yet been reviewed by school officials.
“Out of respect for all those attending the graduation, students are reminded that a graduation should not be a platform for personal political statements, especially those likely to disrupt the ceremony. Should a student vary from this expectation during the graduation, it may be necessary to take appropriate action,” the statement read.
The school district also shared a statement from Pine View School’s principal.
“We honor and celebrate the incredible diversity in thought, belief and background in our school, and champion the uniqueness of every single student on their personal and educational journey,” said principal Dr. Stephen Covert.
School board member Tom Edwards told WFLA he has “love and respect” for both Moricz and Dr. Covert.
“The fact that he is a plaintiff in the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ lawsuit … quite frankly, his feeling of censorship starts with what Tallahassee has done right down to the hate that we hear at school board meetings all the time. We have guidelines for all students when they speak publicly at a commencement speech, but I could certainly understand how Zander could feel censorship because it starts for us at Tallahassee and it rolls right down to the guidelines that were offered to him,” said Edwards.
“I will tell you that the school district does not prohibit First Amendment rights, we don’t do that for Zander or for any of our commencement speakers or for public speakers at school board meetings for that matter,” he continued.
Moricz also said in an open letter to the state’s graduating seniors that he had partnered with the Social Equity and Education Initiative to create 10,000 “Say Gay” stickers, to be mailed to high school seniors across the state. Students who request the stickers are encouraged to wear them on their gowns as they cross the stage during graduation.
“This demonstration will show Governor DeSantis, our legislature, my principal, and all students that while seniors are finished with high school, we are not finished fighting,” Moricz wrote.
Pine View School’s ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, May 22.
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