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Kansas governor apologizes for 'overreaction' to teen's disparaging tweet

By Karen Smith, CNN
November 28, 2011 -- Updated 2159 GMT (0559 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: School district officials say no apology is required; "no further action" upcoming
  • Gov. Brownback says he respects educators teaching about "liberties" and "decorum"
  • The teen wrote she "made mean comments" at Brownback, later saying this didn't happen
  • She says Brownback's office called school about the tweet, which was meant for friends

(CNN) -- Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback apologized Monday for what he called his staff's "overreaction" to a disparaging tweet directed at him by a high school senior during a state Capitol visit.

Emma Sullivan, 18, said late Sunday that a Brownback staffer had notified her school's principal about the tweet, and the principal told her she had to write an apology to the governor. On Monday -- the deadline for the letter, according to the teen -- the Shawnee Mission School District issued a statement stating that "she is not required to write a letter of apology to the governor."

A statement issued by Brownback on Monday did not reference Sullivan by name or mention the prospect of any apology letter. He did emphasize his support for "freedom of speech," while thanking "the thousands of Kansas educators who remind us daily of our liberties, as well as the values of civility and decorum."

"My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize," the governor said. "Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms."

KSHB: School district responds

The teen made national headlines last week for a tweet she said was intended just for her friends.

During a Kansas Youth in Government field trip to the state Capitol on November 21, Sullivan wrote: "Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot."

The Shawnee Mission East senior said she did not actually talk to Brownback, and the post referenced a joke she had with a student on the trip.

The next day, she was called into high school Principal Karl Krawitz's office.

"I had no idea what it was about or why I was being called into the office," she said. "I had never been in trouble before."

Sullivan claimed that the principal "told me he needed to do damage control and was really upset."

Opinion: The girl who dared tweet Gov. Brownback

"He said I was an embarrassment to the school and the school district and that I had been disrespectful," she added.

The principal then asked her to write a letter of apology to Brownback and his staff. He set Monday as the due date for the letter. CNN contacted Krawitz's office but received no response.

Sullivan said Sunday night -- when she still thought the apology letter was due -- that she wouldn't write it, adding that her parents and many of her peers supported her decision.

"I don't think I should write the letter, and I don't think it would be the best move for me," she said. "At this time, I do not think an apology would be a sincere thing for me to do."

But that appeared to become a moot point when "district officials" in Shawnee Mission reviewed the case and asserted Monday that no apology was required and that no "further action" is expected on the issue.

"The district acknowledges a student's right to freedom of speech and expression is constitutionally protected," the district said in its statement. "The district has not censored Miss Sullivan nor infringed upon her freedom of speech."

Sullivan said she had not heard from the governor's office directly. But, following the media attention, her Twitter follower count has rocketed from 65 to more than 4,000.

"I hope that the governor realizes the power of the people and how people can make things happen," she said. "I also hope he will spend his time doing more productive things."

At the least, the student said that she hopes the controversy surrounding her tweet will bring attention to the issue of free speech.

"I hope there won't be any consequences and that my principal and the governor's office can move on," she said. "The issue is relevant and, if anything, is a starting point of dialog with the governor about his policies and how our First Amendment rights can be taken away."

The school district likewise framed the matter as something that could be educational.

"The issue has resulted in many teachable moments concerning the use of social media," the district said.

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