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November 10, 2003

Stand up for Sashwat Singh's right to rap

UPDATE: Sashwat's case seems to have come to a close: his family reached a "compromise" with the school. Part of that compromise is that Sashwat must see a school counselor, and that his family won't pursue getting the suspension taken off his record. Weak. And now Sashwat says, in reference to the questions he'll be asked by schoolmates about his rap album, "I'm going to have to ignore most of it. Because if I make a disturbance in the school, they'll try to suspend me again for that."

His lawyer called it a "victory for free speech". I'm not clear on where he got that idea.

While Sashwat's case seems to be over, it's not clear that the real issue behind the suspension (the principal's "police state" measures, which inspired the song for which Sashwat was suspended) has been resolved. There is a good chance that more activity (and more E-Actions) will be happening in the near future. Check back, as updates will be posted here.

--------->Also, if you are a student at Brookfield Central High School and would like to take part in actions related to challenging the school/principal's policies on free speech and the right to protest, please contact me directly at<---------

And I'm certain that Principal Mark Cerutti ( has not gotten enough e-mails of disapproval over his suspension of Sashwat, and I'm equally certain that Superintendant Matt Gibson ( has not heard enough about how lame it was that he lorded the threat of expulsion over Singh's head in order to get the family to back down and take their undeserved lumps.

And/or, please write a letter to the editor of the regional papers there, and/or write to the school board and the administrators listed in the original action below. has a web tool that allows you to choose up to 10 Wisconsin papers to send your letter to simultaneously. Just go to their campaigns page and you'll see a link to the Sashwat case ("Defend Sashwat Singh's Right to Rap") in the list of national campaigns on the right. The other pieces of that campaign were prepared before Monday's settlement, so they are a little outdated, but the letter-sending tool is still useful. I'll update the rest of the campaign there (and here) later today.

Original E-Action:

Here's the backstory, from my main blog:
(or, skip right to the action)

Sashwat Singh is an honor student at Brookfield Central High School in Brookfield, WI. He's a big music lover -- he's in the school band and choir, and he's a big fan of local live music as well. And, like most kids these days, he's good on the computer.

So 15-year-old Sashwat made his own rap CD on his computer, over the course of the past few months. 14 songs. And, not surprisingly, his rap CD contains obscenities and tough talk, toward his peers and authority figures in his life.

And -- not surprisingly at all, I'm sad to say -- he got suspended from school for it. In the assault on logic commonly called "zero tolerance policies" in schools, Sashwat's CD -- made outside of school -- was judged to be on a par with a bomb threat, arson or bringing guns to school.


That entry goes on to make an impassioned case against the school's actions, and to explain that administrators are currently considering whether to make things even worse, by holding an expulsion hearing, for Sashwat's "offense" of making a rap CD. If you need to be convinced that this is an injustice (or you want to read my exceptional persuasive writing), click here to finish reading that entry. Actually, why don't you go do that either way? I'll wait.

(Update: A conversation with Sashwat's father revealed that the song where he "threatens" his principal is primarily a protest song against the new principal's tendency to call the police into the school for "every little thing".)

Alright then, on to the action. The figures in this case are the following:

  • Principal Mark Cerutti, the administrator whose feathers got so ruffled by hearing himself named in a song that he immediately suspended Sashwat for the sweeping charge of "gross disobedience or misconduct".
  • Matt Gibson, Elmbrook School District superintendent, who is currently considering whether or not to hold an expulsion hearing for Sashwat. The original deadline for his decision has passed, and he's taking more time to gather information about the case (read: to test the winds in terms of public relations, backlash, or potential for being sued). He now intends to make his decision by tomorrow, Tuesday November 11th. When I talked to him, he sounded like he was basically deciding today.
  • The Elmbrook Board of Education, 7 people who have the power to fire Superintendent Gibson -- and the 7 people who will hear the case, if an expulsion hearing does end up being held.
  • Everyone: Call Superintendent Matt Gibson NOW and impress upon him the importance of not moving forward with an expulsion hearing for Sashwat Singh. I just spoke with him a moment ago, and he listened nicely to my comments. He is apparently working on settling things with the family's attorney today. Call him right now (262-781-3030 ext. 1124*) and make sure he does the right thing.

    And of course, spread the word. Pass this action item around to anyone who you think might care.

    If you live near Brookfield, Wisconsin:

  • I recommend placing a call to every phone number listed below, expressing strong disapproval of what has happened so far, and hoping out loud that Superintendent Gibson decides against having an expulsion hearing. It's most important to contact his office specifically -- it's the first one listed -- today or early tomorrow (Tuesday Nov. 11th). He is in the process of deciding on the expulsion hearing right now.
  • Also, there is a Board of Education meeting tomorrow night. A few outraged local residents at that meeting would go a long way. Try to find out what the Superintendent decided on Tuesday. If he decided to go forward with an expulsion hearing, rage against that -- the Board are the ones who will be the judges of that hearing. If he decides to back off, then rail against the fact that Sashwat was suspended in the first place, and urge that action be taken to reverse the suspension, and an apology issued to Sashwat and his family.
    The meeting is at 7:00 PM, November 11th at Central Administrative Offices Board Room, 13780 Hope Street, Brookfield. Be sure to show up early and make sure you will be allowed to speak in the citizens' time at the beginning of the meeting.
  • If you live outside of Wisconsin, then I recommend the following action--

    --Send an e-mail to the above-mentioned people -- you can click here and it should pop-up an e-mail with all their addresses already in place. Principal Cerutti and Superintendent Gibson will be in the "To:" box, and the Associate Principals and the Board of Education members will be in the "Cc:" box. Put your own e-mail address in there somewhere, to facilitate the next step after this one.

    I recommend addressing Superintendent Matt Gibson. Tell him that to apply a "zero tolerance" policy to a music album is a very bad idea, and that to apply such a policy to something produced outside of school is also a bad idea. And that punishing creative expression is a bad idea as well. You get the idea -- just tell him what you think of the way Principal Cerutti has handled this situation, and the way that Sashwat Singh has been treated. Tell him he should choose not to hold an expulsion hearing. If you want to go further, tell him he should work to get the suspension removed from Sashwat's record. And if you want to go even further, tell him that he should apologize to sashwat and his family on behalf of the school district, and that he should fire or otherwise discipline Principal Cerutti. Tell him, if you like, that you are part of a gathering group of activists who will be watching this story closely. And finally, tell him that you will be forwarding your letter to the local news outlets. If you like, you can link to my blog entry where I defend Sashwat and bemoan the school's action. This is the link:

    Be courteous and calm in your letter -- you're trying to persuade, not to scare or offend. After you've sent it, forward it to these folks:

    Reid J. Epstein - author of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article about Singh

    Gazette Extra Newsroom (They published this story about the incident.)

    If you are feeling spunky, or if you don't feel like writing, you can make some phone calls. The phone contact info for all the above-mentioned school folks is below.

    If you live in Wisconsin:

    You can do the above action, plus you can send in a letter to the editor about the incident to the local papers, saying most of the stuff mentioned above, except directing it to the editor and the public, instead of Superintendent Gibson.

    Here's the letter to the editor form at the GazetteExtra. You can also fax them at 608.755.8349, and call their Sound Off line at 608.755.8335.

    The editor of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Martin Kaiser, can be e-mail at Or, you can use their online form for submitting your letter. They published this very misguided editorial this weekend, approving of the suspension, apparently mostly on the grounds that his lyrics were "offensive and violent". They could use some schooling on freedom of expression.

    Here is the contact info for the relevant school officials:

    Principal Mark Cerutti
    Brookfield Central High School
    16900 West Gebhardt Road
    Brookfield, WI 53005
    Phone: (262) 785-3910
    Fax: (262) 785-3993

    Superintendent Matt Gibson
    Elmbrook School District
    13780 Hope Street
    P.O. Box 1830
    Brookfield, WI 53008-1830
    Phone: 262-781-3030 ext. 1124*
    Fax: 262-783-0983
    (*Secretary Carol Chetney)

    Elmbrook Board of Education:
    (info is from this public web page)

    Mr. Patrick J. Murphy
    12554 Knoll Road
    Elm Grove, WI 53122
    Home Phone: 262-782-5270
    District Voice Mail: 262-781-3030 ext. 1265

    Mr. Stephen C. Schwei
    1427 South Parkview Avenue
    New Berlin, WI 53151
    Home Phone: 262-780-0581
    District Voice Mail: 262-781-3030 ext. 1263

    Mr. Bruce E. Nattinger, President
    21165 Stratford Court
    Brookfield, WI 53045
    Home Phone: 262-784-0790
    District Voice Mail: 262-781-3030 ext. 1508

    Mrs. Cheri A. Sylla, Vice President
    3410 Lilly Road
    Brookfield, WI 53005
    Home Phone: 262-781-3592
    District Voice Mail: 262-781-3030 ext. 1507

    Mr. Thomas A. Ricca, Clerk
    21435 Ann Rita Drive
    Brookfield, WI 53045
    Home Phone: 262-784-6769
    District Voice Mail: 262-781-3030 ext. 1261

    Mrs. Meg T. Wartman, Treasurer
    2425 Whippletree Lane
    Brookfield,WI 53045
    Home Phone: 262-827-8850
    District Voice Mail: 262-781-3030 ext. 1266

    Mr. Robert J. Ziegler
    14360 Corona Court
    Brookfield, WI 53005
    Home Phone: 262-784-2422
    District Voice Mail: 262-781-3030 ext. 1239

    Posted by Lance Brown at November 10, 2003 07:27 AM

    As a student at BCHS I know how Sashwat feels about Mr. Cerutti, and I know there are many others who feel the same way. I find it outrageous that the administration is making such a big deal out of this when there are other more important issues going on at our school. There are kids smoking, drinking, and doing drugs and there worried about what one person is saying. I don't know about you, but I was always told talk about how I feel and to tell the truth. If I can do this, then why can't Sashwat. I think the School Distric of Elmbrook needs to reevaluate this situation and think about what really matters

    Posted by: Sina Almassi at November 14, 2003 08:06 PM

    It just drives me nuts when people who don't live in brookfield, or even know a single person from Brookfield Central, pretend like they're infomed about whats going on. The media blew things out of proportion, and made things appear how they're not.

    So sashwat is entitled to free speech, but it is not acceptable to have music with that sort of content on school grounds. That is why he got in trouble.

    Central is not a police state. Cerutti is a good guy, along with the rest of administration.

    Ack. Sorry, i'm overly emotional and can't think straight.

    Posted by: Daniel Miller at November 20, 2003 01:01 PM

    Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for posting your comments.

    > It just drives me nuts when people who don't live in Brookfield,
    > or even know a single person from Brookfield Central, pretend
    > like they're informed about what's going on. The media blew
    > things out of proportion, and made things appear how they're not.

    The media I read said that Sashwat was suspended for 5 days and threatened with expulsion because a CD that he made, and gave and sold to kids at school, had content on it which the administration found objectionable. What did the media blow out of proportion, in your view?

    For what it's worth, before I pretended like I was informed about what was going on, I spoke with the President of the Elmbrook Board of Education, as well as Superintendent Gibson, as well as Sashwat's father. I also read comments online from a number of Brookfield Central students. Since then I have communicated directly with several other students from there, all of whom have echoed the same sentiments regarding the environment at BCHS and the administration of Principal Cerutti.

    > So sashwat is entitled to free speech, but it is not acceptable
    > to have music with that sort of content on school grounds. That
    > is why he got in trouble.

    So would someone who had an Ice-T CD on school grounds be suspended for 5 days and threatened with expulsion as well? And do you think that's appropriate? And secondly, is it acceptable for someone to have, for example, a Michael Bolton CD on school grounds? Is it normal for the principal to screen CDs and decide whether they are suitable for possession on school grounds? Is there precedent for this? Have other students been suspended for 5 days this school year for CDs which they have brought to school? Which CDs?

    > Central is not a police state. Cerutti is a good guy, along
    > with the rest of administration.

    From what I've gathered -- and mind you, I'm just pretending to be informed, but I have yet to hear a contrary view -- Cerutti is a "good guy" who is not a very good principal.

    > Ack. Sorry, i'm overly emotional and can't think straight.

    Can I ask why you are so emotionally invested in this? Are you friends with Cerutti, or do you have some other connection beyond just being a student at Central?

    Thanks again for writing in. I appreciate your effort to make your opinion heard.

    Posted by: Lance Brown at November 20, 2003 01:36 PM

    sahswat is the shit thats the bestd cd im proud to to know i owned that copy i like the poopy song

    Posted by: john brown at December 18, 2003 02:15 PM
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