- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2014

A Massachusetts high school student has been barred from attending his senior prom after school officials learned he had written pro-democracy notes while taking a semester abroad in Beijing.

Newton North High School senior Henry DeGroot was visiting a school outside Beijing when he wrote pro-democracy messages in the notebook of a Chinese student, The Boston Globe reported.

The notes reportedly read, “Democracy is for cool kids” and “Don’t believe the lies your school and government tell you,” among others.

Mr. DeGroot, 18, told the paper that he wrote the notes in hopes that kids would read them and “be critical, or at least think about how their school and government interacts with them.”

Officials of the Beijing Jingshan School found out about the notes and made the student serve five hours of detention. Newton school officials also barred him from his senior prom.

Newton School Superintendent David Fleishman told The Globe that Mr. DeGroot violated a code of conduct that was clearly spelled out to students before they left on the trip.

“We certainly want our students to be thoughtful and critical thinkers,” Mr. Fleishman said. “We encourage that, and we pride ourselves on giving students that opportunity. But this is not about free speech.”

“What he did chilled the rest of the entire trip. It put a strain on the visit,” he continued. “I applaud kids who want to be politically active, and I believe this program helps kids be active citizens of the world. I don’t want to jeopardize that goal by one student doing something that could end one of the longest-running exchange programs with China.”

Ken Hamilton, chairman of the school exchange committee, agreed, telling The Globe that what Mr. DeGroot did was like embarrassing someone in their own home.

“For something like this to happen, it’s embarrassing for Principal Fan [Luyan],” he said. “It’s losing face for him, and in Chinese culture that is like losing your reputation.”

Mr. DeGroot ended up wearing formal attire to a Five Guys burger joint instead of his prom.

“I’m missing a lifetime of memories,” he told The Globe. “[Newton] refused to take any stand to support the principles they taught us.”