Gov. Sam Brownback said he’s sorry his staff alerted school officials about an insulting tweet posted by a high school student last week.
“My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize,” Brownback said in a statement posted on his Facebook page Monday. “Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms.”
Officials with the Shawnee Mission school district also said Emma Sullivan would not be disciplined or required to write a letter of apology for the tweet, which she posted during a school trip to Topeka last week.
“The district acknowledges a student’s right to freedom of speech and expression is constitutionally protected,” the district said in a written statement e-mailed to The Eagle on Monday.
“The issue has resulted in many teachable moments concerning the use of social media,” the statement said. “The district does not intend to take any further action on this matter.”
Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, was in Topeka last week as part of a Kansas Youth in Government program when she posted an insult about Brownback on her personal Twitter page.
Someone in Brownback’s office flagged the tweet and reported it to event organizers. The next day, Sullivan’s principal ordered her to apologize in writing.
After the story was reported last week, Sullivan’s anti-Brownback tweet went viral. On Monday her Twitter page – @emmakate988 – had nearly 12,000 followers. The governor’s official Twitter page, @govsambrownback, has just over 3,200 followers.
Thousands of people voiced support for Sullivan by retweeting her original hashtag, “#heblowsalot.” National news agencies picked up the story, and a number of political and social media bloggers and even Comedy Central weighed in as well.
But Monday afternoon, Sullivan said her return to school was “really, really rough” because many classmates gave her the cold shoulder or criticized her newfound fame.
“I thought all the students would be behind me, but even some of my closest ones were saying some pretty harsh things,” she said.
No one approached Sullivan directly on Monday, she said, but some posted Twitter comments accusing her of “just trying to get attention or trying to get the school in trouble.” One classmate told her, “You have 5,000 followers but no actual friends.”
“It was so overwhelmingly negative,” she said. “I was a little surprised that they weren’t more supportive.”
Because of that reaction, along with Brownback’s apology and the school district’s decision to not punish her, Sullivan said she plans to ignore dozens of media requests that greeted her after school Monday.
“It’s over, so I’m just kind of glad it’s over,” she said. “I’m just looking to put it behind me and kind of forget the situation.”
Along with the thousands of new Twitter followers and “likes” on Sullivan’s new public-figure Facebook page, some who read the original tweet said they thought the governor and school officials still deserve an apology.
Polly Booher, a benefits manager in Raleigh, N.C., e-mailed a letter of support to Sullivan’s principal Monday, saying the girl’s tweet was “rude and inappropriate.”
Booher, 57, described herself as “a certified, card-carrying radical liberal,” adding, “I believe very strongly that we’re all entitled to our opinion, but I prefer educated opinions.
“You learn in kindergarten to be nice to people. Show respect. That’s a basic,” she said. “He is the governor and whether you like it or not, you need to respect the office and respect adults.”
In his statement Monday, Brownback said he enjoyed speaking to the more than 100 students who participated in the Youth in Government program last week. He also thanked “the thousands of Kansas educators who remind us daily of our liberties, as well as the values of civility and decorum.”
Sullivan said she plans to keep her Twitter and Facebook pages and appreciates the support she’s received through social media.
But “I’m going to get a new Twitter (account) to kind of go back to my original 60 followers,” she said.