School Official Defends Pressing Charges Against Those Who Cheered at a Graduation

Senatobia, Mississippi school Superintendent Jay Foster, who pressed charges against cheering family members at a high school graduation for "disturbing the peace," indicated that he plans to appear in court on Tuesday to make a statement and defended taking legal action against the exuberant cheerers.

“I think graduation should be a solemn occasion,” Foster said. “It should have some dignity and decorum and at the end we'll celebrate together."

After consulting with school board members, administrators, and lawyers for the district, Foster moved ahead in filing misdemeanor disturbing the peace charges against three people for disobeying the instructions to withhold cheers and applause until the end of the ceremony. “We thought, let’s serve them with papers for disturbing the peace,” he said. “They'll pay a fine. Maybe they'll learn their lesson. It was not about punishing these people. It was about the rights of the other graduates.”

The charges carry a fine of up to $500 dollars and possible jail time of up to six months. Though the incident has received negative national attention, Foster and other representatives for the school district have said that local reaction has been mostly favorable.“The local people who know what’s going on are very supportive,” said Jim Keith, a lawyer for the Senatobia district.

The Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union contends that the First Amendment rights of those charged are being violated. “Citizens should be able to enjoy the right of free speech, especially at a congratulatory event, like a high school graduation. The cheering by the family does not qualify as a disturbance of the peace and should not have elicited a criminal response,” Mississippi ACLU Legal Director Charles Irvin said in a statement.

Update 7:04pm ET: Superintendent Jay Foster has withdrawn charges, according to local news station WDAM.

H/T: The Grio

Photo: Fox News