SARASOTA COUNTY, Fl. (WFLA) – Zander Moricz is the senior class president at Pine View School in Florida’s Sarasota County. He’s set to speak at his upcoming high school graduation, but Moricz claims his principal and school administration officials are trying to preemptively silence him and censor his speech.
Moricz is also one of the plaintiffs named in a lawsuit against the State of Florida relating to its recently signed Parental Rights in Education law, or what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
“A few days ago, my principal called me into his office and informed me that if my graduation speech referenced my activism or role as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, school administration had a signal to cut off my microphone, end my speech, and halt the ceremony,” wrote Moricz on Twitter. “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history — this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”
The Florida-based Social Equity and Education Initiative campaign launched a petition in response, raising support to #LetZanderSpeak. It has already gained more than 5,600 signatures.
Christopher Covelli, the vice president of the non-profit group Project Pride, says he’s standing with the teen.
“An educator means you educate, you don’t silence people. Silencing him is wrong. It is against everything that Americans live for. It is called freedom of speech,” said Covelli.
WFXR’s sister station, WFLA, contacted Sarasota County Schools for comment regarding the student’s claims that school leaders at Pine View are threatening to cut off his microphone if he speaks about certain topics during his graduation speech.
In the lengthy statement, the school district confirmed that students are instructed not to make “personal political statements,” but claimed that Moricz’s speech had not yet been reviewed by school officials.
The school district’s remarks, in full, can be read below:
“Each year, our elementary, middle, and high schools go over graduation/promotion ceremony expectations and guidelines for speeches, presentations, and performances with their graduates, so the students know what to expect during the event. Students participating in the graduation ceremony go through at least one rehearsal of the overall event, with a particular emphasis on the timing of performances and speeches. All material performed, spoken, or shown during the ceremony is reviewed and approved by school personnel and administration to be sure it is appropriate to the tone of the ceremony.
High School graduation ceremonies are a time-honored tradition that celebrate the many accomplishments of all graduates & their families, as well as the teachers, staff members, and school communities who contributed to each student’s educational journey. Class presidents, academic or athletic team captains, and outstanding community servants are just some of the many types of student leaders commonly chosen to speak at graduation ceremonies. It is a great privilege to be a graduation speaker — most students share their fond memories of school experiences, give shout-outs to special teachers & staff, and share inspirational messages to help celebrate all the seniors in the graduating class as they move onto college, work, and adulthood. Out of respect for all those attending the graduation, students are reminded that a graduation should not be a platform for personal political statements, especially those likely to disrupt the ceremony. Should a student vary from this expectation during the graduation, it may be necessary to take appropriate action.
With regard to Pine View School, we can confirm that the school’s administrators review students’ speeches annually for appropriateness and length prior to graduation in a manner that is consistent with existing law, including the First Amendment to our Constitution. As in years past, student speakers were reminded that graduation is a community celebration and were encouraged to tailor their remarks to be reflective of experiences & memories that all students could appreciate to best reflect all facets of the graduating class’s achievements. The principal did meet with Zander Moricz to remind him of the ceremony expectations, but the content of the speech has not yet been reviewed.”
The school district also shared a statement from Pine View School’s principal.
“We honor and celebrate the incredible diversity in thought, belief and background in our school, and champion the uniqueness of every single student on their personal and educational journey,” said principal Dr. Stephen Covert.
School board member Tom Edwards told WFXR’s sister station he has “love and respect” for both Moricz and Covert.
“The fact that he is a plaintiff in the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ lawsuit … quite frankly, his feeling of censorship starts with what Tallahassee has done right down to the hate that we hear at school board meetings all the time. We have guidelines for all students when they speak publicly at a commencement speech, but I could certainly understand how Zander could feel censorship because it starts for us at Tallahassee and it rolls right down to the guidelines that were offered to him,” said Edwards.
“I will tell you that the school district does not prohibit First Amendment rights, we don’t do that for Zander or for any of our commencement speakers or for public speakers at school board meetings for that matter,” he continued.
Moricz also said in an open letter to the state’s graduating seniors that he had partnered with the Social Equity and Education Initiative to create 10,000 “Say Gay” stickers, to be mailed to high school seniors across the state. Students who request the stickers are encouraged to wear them on their gowns as they cross the stage during graduation.
“This demonstration will show Governor DeSantis, our legislature, my principal, and all students that while seniors are finished with high school, we are not finished fighting,” Moricz wrote.
Pine View School’s ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, May 22.