West Seneca East senior Brandon Guzda will serve the final day of his five-day suspension today for sending a vulgar message about an English teacher at the school over the social media site Twitter.
Brandon publicly tweeted “(Expletive) mrs. (name withheld) #freedomofspeech like come on why did u do that!” after being ejected with three friends from the West Seneca Town Ice Rink on Feb. 4 for allegedly exhibiting rowdy and insubordinate behavior at a game against crosstown rival West Seneca West, according to West Seneca Central School officials.
When a number of East students approached the teacher to tell her about Brandon’s tweet, she “became very embarrassed, very upset about it and distraught,” said Mark J. Crawford, West Seneca superintendent.
“She became more upset, and the kids were upset,” added Crawford. “It began to really have an impact to where it was disrupting the learning environment over there.”
Because of the incident, East Principal Jonathan Cervoni suspended Brandon for five days – the maximum allowed by state Education Law without a formal superintendent’s hearing. Because of next week’s winter break, Brandon won’t return to the classroom until Feb. 25.
When local television media were contacted by the Guzda family this week, the story took on a life of its own.
Brandon and his mother, Joanne Procyshyn, told WIVB-TV they think the school’s punishment was excessive.
“We talked about it, that it’s wrong,” Procyshyn said in the interview. “It’s wrong to single out a person, and saying anything nasty about anyone is wrong. But to take him out of school for five days is wrong as well.” Neither Brandon nor Procyshyn was available to be interviewed Thursday. Brandon’s Twitter account is now protected as private.
Brandon told WIVB: “You have freedoms and you’re allowed to state how you’re feeling at that time. As long as it’s not threatening or harassing, I feel like students should be able to say what they have to say on Twitter ... and, at that time, with my anger, I felt at that time it was right, but then I realized I shouldn’t have took it that far.”
Crawford, however, does not feel Brandon had any right to publicly make the vulgar statement. “This issue is being framed by the family of the boy as a First Amendment matter,” said Crawford. “We see it very differently.”
Crawford said Brandon was in clear violation of the district’s Code of Conduct for students and deserved the full punishment the district imposed. East students received a direct warning about the perils of improperly using of social media sites last September when Cervoni held a special student assembly to address the issue, he added. “We take it very seriously for a whole bunch of reasons,” the superintendent said. “This was a routine matter for us. This is the kind of stuff we deal with from time to time.”
Crawford cited a similar situation not long ago where a student, over the weekend and from his own bedroom, sent out a racially charged message about several classmates to nearly 5,000 people on Facebook. That student was suspended for a longer period of time than Brandon , the superintendent said.
“The situation was virtually the same: It disrupted our learning environment,” Crawford said. Because that student admitted to the incident and accepted the punishment, little publicity resulted.
Crawford feels the incident has received undue attention.
“What was an internal matter in one of our high schools has become a communitywide matter,” he said.
There appears to be some support growing among some of Brandon’s classmates, who have taken to social media sites of their own, mostly to defend him. One student tweeted Thursday that Cervoni visited her Spanish class and found that students had written on the blackboard: “#freeguzda” and “#teamguzda.”
Another recounted a story late Wednesday that his mother spotted his “#FreeGuzda” shirt he had made and told him he “couldn’t wear it to school.”
Another apparent student took an opposing view, tweeting that Brandon was “a punk.”
In all, nearly two dozen tweets were posted by students between about 5 p.m. Wednesday and the same time Thursday.