Joshua principal’s threat of punishment against valedictorian alleged

Posted Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A Joshua high school principal is being accused of threatening to ruin the reputation of this year’s valedictorian — and possibly derail his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy — as punishment for deviating from a preapproved graduation speech to talk about faith and liberty.

Valedictorian Remington Reimer gained national attention after the microphone was turned off during his June 6 graduation speech, in which he admittedly veered from the text to talk about Christ’s “excruciating death on a cross so his blood would cover all our shortcomings …”

The Liberty Institute of Plano said Joshua High Principal Mick Cochran met with Reimer’s father, Todd, the day after the graduation and threatened to send a letter to the academy in Annapolis, Md., questioning his son’s moral character.

“Specifically, he threatened to send a letter to the United States Naval Academy where Remington will matriculate in June 2013, advising that Remington has poor character, or words to that effect,” wrote Hiram Sasser, the Liberty Institute’s litigation director.

Remington Reimer, 19, is scheduled to enter the academy this month. In one of his first interviews since the incident, he said all he wanted to do was give the speech he wanted to give.

“It was intimidating having my high school principal threaten my future because I wanted to stand up for the Constitution and acknowledge my faith and not simply read a government-approved message,” Reimer said.

Sasser sent a certified letter Thursday to Joshua school district officials saying that they violated state and federal law by editing the speech and that the institute wants the district to issue a public statement exonerating Reimer. The letter gives the district 60 days to comply to avoid a possible lawsuit.

Sasser wrote that the principal consulted with a school district attorney and “temporarily retracted his threat. As of this letter, principal Cochran has not stated his intended action.”

Cochran, along with Joshua School Superintendent Fran Marek and school board President Ronnie Galbreath, did not respond to requests for comment by the Star-Telegram.

Reimer said he wants to study nuclear engineering and serve on a submarine. He was nominated for admission by U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan.

The Naval Academy has not received any correspondence on Reimer’s acceptance or appointment, spokeswoman Judy Campbell wrote in an email to the Star-Telegram.

Asked whether the academy can withdraw a student’s place at the school, Campbell wrote: “It is not remotely appropriate to discuss hypothetical scenarios regarding a candidate’s status.”

Government-approved speech

Schools administrators turned off the microphone during the June 6 commencement speech at Owl Stadium as Reimer began talking about the Constitution, liberty and his religious faith.

Marek released a statement last week saying the school district’s actions followed policy and procedures. Student commencement speakers — the valedictorian, salutatorian and class historian — had their speeches reviewed before the ceremony.

Student speakers are told that if they don’t follow previously reviewed material, the microphone will be turned off.

Reimer’s speech was reviewed by four campus officials: a teacher, assistant principal and principal plus a JROTC instructor, according to the Liberty Institute’s letter.

Reimer said he was told that district officials wanted the speech to be a traditional look to the future but that he was required to submit several drafts.

“The whole process, I felt that there was something wrong,” he said. “It was edited several times. It was entirely rewritten. It didn’t look anything like the original draft. By the end of it, it was government-approved speech.”

District disclaimer

At the ceremony, after Reimer delivered the remarks that had been preapproved, he continued to speak, thanking his family and teachers.

“But most importantly, I want to thank God for giving up his only Son for us to an excruciating death on a cross so his blood would cover all our shortcomings and provide for us a way to heaven in accepting his grace,” he said.

The microphone was turned off as Reimer began to say: “We are all fortunate to live in a country where we can express our beliefs, where our mikes won’t be turned off, as I have been threatened to be if I veer away from the school-censored speech that I have just finished.”

Sasser said that state and federal law and school district policy require the district to distance itself from the valedictorian’s speech and that officials should not have reviewed or edited the speech.

The letter said the district has a policy of printing a disclaimer in the commencement program that the content of a student speaker’s message does not necessarily reflect district policy.

“The school’s officials are just not following their own rules. Remington followed the rules and hopefully the board will make sure the district follows their rules in the future,” Sasser said.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown

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