INDIANA — School administrators who failed to find thehumor in a satirical underground newspaper ended its publicationand suspended the three students who produced and distributedit.
Deans at Columbus North High School halted production of TheQuadrilateral after its first issue on Feb. 1, seizing allcopies of the paper from students and suspending its editor andtwo staff writers.
Quadrilateral editor Jordan Smith and writers EthanMoses and Robbie Petry were removed from class and questionedby assistant principal John Green and the deans. Smith receiveda five-day out-of-school suspension and the other students weresuspended for three days.
Moses said that the deans also searched Smith’s car for additionalcopies of the newspaper.
"The manner in which we were punished and sentenced didnot seem to mirror the ‘crime’ we committed," Moses said."I know that what my friends and I wrote can be deemed asinsulting and in bad taste, but the [suspension] seemed far toosevere." Moses said the missed days have caused him to fallbehind in classes.
Green said he and the deans saw the punishment as an educationalexperience.
"We put underground newspapers as a separate item in ourhandbook, so [students] know, at least in that format, where theycan go and can’t go," Green said. "But part of growingup is testing those limits sometimes."
Columbus permits underground newspapers that do not cause adisruption or violate guidelines set forth in the student handbook,Green said. The Quadrilateral caused a "major disruption"with anti-gay slurs and jabs at particular students, he said.
"In terms of how we found out, I had a girl come to mein tears and showed me a copy that she received," Green said."Other students witnessed that and said, ‘What the heck isthis?’ It’s the kind of thing where you’re surprised that thestudents put their name on it."
After questioning the boys, the deans made a list of all studentsknown to have copies of the paper and set out to confiscate them.
Editor Christina Souza of school-sponsored paper The Trianglewas on the list. Souza said a dean stopped her in the hallwayand gruffly asked her to remove the paper from her book bag andhand it over.
Souza said the incident shocked and upset her, particularlybecause when questioned about why he needed it, the dean becameangry and told her, "Your parents would never want you toread that."
Souza said she has sought the advice of a local chapter ofthe American Civil Liberties Union to help write a column on studentrights in the wake of the paper-snatching.
The Quadrilateral mixed gripes about school policieswith obviously satirical pieces, such as an article that comparedOsama bin Laden to actor Patrick Duffy. A disclaimer on its frontcover states that the paper is in no way affiliated with Columbusor The Triangle and that its contents "should be takenas little more than a stupid joke."
But Green said the paper’s creators warranted punishment becauseof their direct attacks on individuals and groups in the school.
Journalism adviser Kim Greene said that some of TheQuadrilateral‘s satirical material could have been submittedto The Triangle and run as guest columns, but she agreedthat the personal attacks are what made the underground newspaperin violation of school policy.
None of the suspended students are on the staff of The Triangle,Greene said, but Smith is in a photojournalism class she teaches. Greene said she has used the incident as an educational experiencefor her journalism classes to learn about freedom of expressionissues and the limitations and responsibilities of student journalists.
In its next issue, The Triangle will focus on studentrights at school, including those granting freedom of expression.
"We have a very liberal school," Greene said. "Andyou’ve got to give [the administration] credit for that, but thereare just some strange things happening, like kids being told thatbecause you’re in a public building we can search you wheneverwe want."
Greene said the issue would include a message she has alreadytold her students in class — students can produce undergroundnewspapers, so long as they do so responsibly and adhere to theguidelines in their student handbook.
"Having an underground newspaper is OK," Greene said."My gosh, what better way to exercise your freedom of expression."
Read The Quadrilateral online at www.quadpaper.cjb.net.