A high school student was suspended for “disrespect” after he called his congressman’s office and told lawmakers — as he recalls it — to “get off their f‑‑‑— asses” and pass gun-control laws.
Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) has defended his staff member for reporting 17-year-old Noah Christiansen’s foul language to his principal last week, which the American Civil Liberties Union said caused Christiansen to miss two days of school and be barred from joining the student government.
“Welcome to the world where words have impact,” Amodei told the Los Angeles Times.
Christiansen called Amodei’s office Wednesday, as he and thousands of U.S. students walked out of class to demand gun-law reforms in the wake of last month’s massacre at a high school in Florida.
The 11th-grader did not expect to go totally unpunished for joining the protest; administrators at Robert McQueen High School in Reno had warned students that they would be marked tardy if they left class that day, the ACLU wrote.
Even a late mark would be a rare blotch on Christiansen’s record, he told The Washington Post. He said his disciplinary record had been nearly spotless; he was running unopposed for class secretary; and had never so much as had detention before (although he once went off script at a debate tournament to criticize President Trump, for which he ended up writing a letter of apology).
But “that was the whole point of the walkout: to not care about rules for a quick 17 minutes,” Christiansen said.
So at 10:17 a.m. — symbolic for the 17 people killed in Florida — he left calculus class one minute early and joined hundreds of other students assembled outside the school’s front door.
Students from other schools nationwide protested with silence, songs and chants that morning. At McQueen, Christiansen said, his schoolmates passed out sheets of paper with lawmakers’ phone numbers.
“I wanted to call all of them,” he said, but he settled for the staff member who picked up the phone at Amodei’s office.
Christiansen knew the congressman was a gun-rights supporter. The phone call lasted just a few seconds, as he recalled it.
“I just said, ‘I believe bump stocks should be banned, the minimum age should be raised, and Congress people not already asking should get off their f-ing asses and do something about gun control.’ ”
Christiansen would later blame himself, somewhat, for not being more polite in the heat of the moment. “I’m smart enough to use better words than, of course, the f-word,” he told the Nevada Independent. “But at the same time, even if I do want to use words, and use them over and over again, it’s my right to do so.”
He didn’t threaten anyone, he said. He heard other students at the walkout say far worse in their own calls to officials. The man on the other end of the line didn’t even seem particularly upset by Christiansen’s f-bomb.
“The person said something like, thank you for your comments,” Christiansen said.
So he hung up and walked back inside, a few minutes late for statistics class.
That afternoon, Christiansen was told to gather his things and go to the principal’s office. A congressional aide had apparently phoned the school to complain about his rude language.
“It was really strange to me,” Christiansen said. No one from the office had complained to him or his parents. “They don’t have a problem calling the school to tattle on kids promoting democracy.”
Amodei, however, defended his aide’s decision to report the student.
“He didn’t ask for any specific thing or beat the kid up,” he told the Independent. “He just said, ‘I wanted you know that this guy was really vulgar. We had a lot of calls and nobody else was.’ ”
That was enough to rattle Christiansen’s principal and vice principal, who both met him in the office, he said.
“They said it’s very embarrassing for McQueen,” the student recalled. “They had just flown out to D.C. to meet all these congressional representatives, talking about how great the school is.”
The few times he has been scolded at school, Christiansen said, he has usually responded with contrition. He wrote the apology letter for that rogue speech about Trump, for example. He told the ACLU that he once wore a shirt that read “Free the Shoulder” to class, to protest a dress code that forbid girls, but not boys, from going sleeveless. But when administrators told Christiansen to take the shirt off, he did.
He was feeling no more rebellious on Wednesday, he said. He agreed with his principal that he shouldn’t have cursed. He even offered to serve detention for the first time.
This was not enough.
Washoe County School District deemed his vulgar remarks to a congressman’s office an act of official “defiance/disrespect/insubordination,” according to a discipline slip shared by the ACLU.
Christiansen left school immediately that afternoon to begin a two-day suspension. While he was gone, the ACLU alleges, administrators refused to seat him as class secretary after student government elections.
“They just really took it personally,” Christiansen said. “As if it’s truly embarrassing — a kid representing a democracy.”
Administrators allowed Christiansen to attend a statewide debate championship on Friday, so he split the suspension between Thursday and Monday.
But as he mulled over the punishment and tried to explain it to friends, it seemed less and less fair. He had not made the phone call from class, or a school event; he was already marked tardy. Why should he not be allowed to swear at a congressman?
So as he sat home from school, Christiansen called a lawyer, and then the ACLU.
On Monday, his second day of suspension, the civil rights group sent letters to Superintendent Traci Davis, Principal Amy Marable and the congressman. The ACLU called the punishment an act of political “retaliation,” and demanded it be wiped from Christiansen’s record.
“Disciplining a student and permanently damaging their future college prospects because they actively participated in democracy will have a chilling effect on other students who are considering engaging in the political process,” the ACLU wrote to the school.
The Washoe County School District released a statement in response. Citing privacy laws, it said nothing about Christiansen’s case. But the district wrote that it “expects students to act appropriately and with decorum. Some students were disciplined for breaking student conduct codes or participating in other inappropriate behavior” during the walkout.
The ACLU also asked Amodei to apologize to Christiansen. “Do you and your congressional office understand the rights the First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees us?” the group asked in its letter.
So far, the congressman has stood firm.
“Look, I’m not going to be the language proctor for the U.S. House of Representatives,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “But I am going to allow a senior staffer who deals with all of that stuff, if they think a situation was such that it warranted saying something up the line.”
“I’m not apologizing because my guy accurately described what happened in the phone call,” he told the Independent
Christiansen wasn’t much surprised. “I was hoping for the best, but I’ve seen this guy’s language before. I didn’t expect too much,” he told The Post on Tuesday morning — as he headed back to class, a bit late because of the news interviews.
This post has been updated.