Disparaging tweet about Gov. Sam Brownback lands Kansas teen in principal’s office

11/24/2011 5:00 AM

08/06/2014 1:29 AM

A Kansas teenager is in trouble after mocking Gov. Sam Brownback during a mock legislative assembly for high school students.

Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, was in Topeka on Monday as part of Kansas Youth in Government, a program for students interested in politics and government.

During the session, in which Brownback addressed the group, Sullivan posted on her personal Twitter page:

“Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot”

On Tuesday, Sullivan was called to her principal’s office and told that the tweet had been flagged by someone on Brownback’s staff and reported to organizers of the Youth in Government program.

The principal “laid into me about how this was unacceptable and an embarrassment,” Sullivan said. “He said I had created this huge controversy and everyone was up in arms about it and now he had to do damage control.

“I’m mainly shocked that they would even see that tweet and be concerned about me,” she said. “I just honestly feel they’re making a lot bigger deal out of it than it actually was.”

Sullivan said the principal ordered her to write letters of apology to Brownback, the school’s Youth in Government sponsor, the district’s social studies coordinator and others.

Karl Krawitz, the school principal, did not return calls or e-mails Wednesday.

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said her office had forwarded a copy of Sullivan’s tweet to organizers of the school-sponsored event “so that they were aware what their students were saying in regards to the governor’s appearance.

“We monitor social media so we can see what Kansans are thinking and saying about the governor and his policies,” Jones-Sontag said.

“We just felt it was appropriate for the organizers to be aware because of what was said in the tweet.”

Sullivan, 18, said she posted the comment because she doesn’t agree with Brownback’s policies, particularly recent cuts in state aid to schools. She is a registered Democrat.

“Some of my friends were joking about what they’d really like to say (to Brownback), so I just took out my phone” and tweeted, she said. “I guess it was kind of a heat-of-the-moment thing.”

She didn’t think much about it, Sullivan said, because her Twitter page – @emmakate988 – had only about 60 followers and was “pretty anonymous.”

Brownback’s office discovered the tweet via a Web search for his name, officials said.

Niomi Burget, Brownback’s scheduling secretary, e-mailed a screen shot of the tweet to the Youth in Government sponsor at Shawnee Mission East, writing: “I don’t know if this was someone with your group, but thought if it was, you might want it brought to your attention.”

The Shawnee Mission school district was not in session Wednesday. Leigh Anne Neal, spokeswoman for the district, said that district officials were not aware of the incident, but would look into it after the Thanksgiving break.

“In general,” she wrote, “students on school-sponsored field trips, in which they are representing the school, would be expected to conduct themselves in accordance with school district policies, including use of electronic devices. Students may express their personal beliefs, views, and opinions, as long as they do so appropriately and in accordance with school policies.”

Sullivan’s older sister, Olivia, a sophomore majoring in political science at Wichita State University, said she thinks the controversy amounts to Brownback “censoring the opinion of a student.”

“This is something she said on her personal Twitter account,” Olivia Sullivan said.

“It’s unacceptable, first of all, to censor her and punish her for what she said. But for the governor and his staff to waste their time getting a high school student in trouble? That’s ridiculous.”

As of Wednesday, the offending tweet remained on Emma Sullivan’s Twitter page despite a suggestion by her principal that she remove it. It’s still there alongside tweets from a recent “Twilight” movie marathon and her thoughts on Justin Bieber’s holiday CD (“Just found out justin bieber raps in his christmas album... #mixedfeelings”).

She said she plans to write the apology letters over Thanksgiving break and then put the episode behind her. She is awaiting word from the University of Arkansas, where she applied for college next year and hopes to double-major in psychology and sociology.

“I don’t regret what I said,” she said. “I guess I’m just kind of shocked right now.”

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