Underground paper at Mass. school survives censorship threat

MASSACHUSETTS — Three students at Ashland High Schoolmet some resistance when they tried to distribute an undergroundpublication, but they persevered and now say their paper is thetalk of the school.

Jon Rosenblum, Jon Turner and Alan Weene distributed the firstissue of The Real Deal on Dec. 18, offering blunt criticismof school problems and serious and humorous ways to fix them.Later that day, principal Shelley Marcus Cohen pulled Rosenblumout of class and told him the paper could only be given out beforeand after school.

“I stopped them from giving it out during the schoolday,” Cohen said. “You can’t stand in the hall betweenclasses and do that. During the school day, it was off limits.”

Rosenblum argued for his rights, citing the Supreme Court’sTinker v. Des Moines decision, which affirmed students’ability to express themselves on school grounds. In addition,Massachusetts has enacted a law (Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 71, Section82) protecting the free-speech rights of students.

Cohen would not budge on her decision, Rosenblum said, so hetook the matter to Superintendent Richard Hoffman, who allowedthe editors to distribute the paper during lunch as well asbefore and after school. They did just that three days later.

In an article that appeared in the second issue, distributedon Dec. 21, Rosenblum wrote, “I was called from class andMrs. Cohen told me to collect every issue of The Real Deal.She said that we could not distribute this newsletter at AshlandHigh School without the principal’s approval.”

Cohen denied that she told Rosenblum to collect the publication.She said she has encouraged free expression of students and eventried to rejuvenate the defunct school newspaper.

In the fall, the three editors worked with Cohen to publisha few issues of a paper using school equipment. That relationshipwent sour, however, and the students began using their own moneyand equipment to publish The Real Deal starting Dec. 18.

Cohen said she never intended to censor the students and washoping the venture would turn into a permanent school-sponsoredpublication for other students to join.

“I think the students do need a voice,” she said.”If we did have a paper, it would provide an outlet. Sincewe don’t have one, we have to find an avenue to hear them.”

As for the future of The Real Deal, Rosenblum said,the paper has taken on a heightened level of popularity since thedispute with Cohen. Students and teachers have come to the paper’srescue, he said, giving the editors motivation to continue theirwork.

Editors of The Real Deal plan to release their nextissue later this month.

Visit the online edition of The Real Deal, which includes a story about the censorship incident.View the Massachusetts Student Free Expression Law in our law library.