Bad words prompt Calif. school to stop distribution of magazine

CALIFORNIA — More than 1,500 copies of Upland HighSchool’s annual student-run literary magazine were confiscated on June 2by administrators when parents complained about the magazine’s vulgarlanguage and dark content. On June 6, several students claimingcensorship protested the confiscation of Tapestry by wearing tape overtheir mouths or on their shirts that said “Censored by UUSD,”referring to Upland Unified School District. Principal Guy Roubian senta letter of apology to members of the community that said Tapestry wasunder investigation. As a result, English teacher Alan Berman stepped down fromhis position as adviser in opposition to Roubian’s plans to review contentin future editions.Most of the material in the award-winningTapestry, which includes poetry, prose, plays and two-dimensionalartwork, was about the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Parents wereparticularly concerned with submissions by senior Brian Warmus, who wrote astory from the perspective of a homicidal stalker and a poem about things thathe hated. Administrators said use of the words “fuck,”“homos” and “pussy” in his work were a direct violationof the education code, which does not allow profanity in the school setting.About 1,100 copies of Tapestry were passed out to students withthe yearbook when administrators began to receive complaints and they decided tohalt distribution.Warmus said the school offered to provide him withpsychological help. But Warmus has refused, insisting that his work is purelyfictitious and that he did not intend for it to be threatening.Warmuswas suspended from school for two days and nearly prevented from participatingin graduation proceedings as a result of the controversy, he said. Schoolofficials told Warmus to rewrite part of his senior English project because itinvolved a serial killer. When a teacher would not let him work on the projectdue in the following class, he walked out of class and was suspended.According to Warmus, he was told by Roubian that if he participated inany more protests, or if he or any Tapestry contributor did anything atgraduation that caused a raucous, they would be arrested.Roubian andSuperintendent Pete Watson could not be reached for comment after several phonemessages were left over a week. In a letter to the Upland community,Roubian and Watson responded to disgruntled parents by apologizing for thematerial found in the magazine.“As a community, we know you expectmore from your schools than what was displayed in this written piece,” theletter said. “This article crossed the lines of decency and oversteppedthe standards set and expected by the community at large. This embarrassment toyou, our constituents, is unacceptable. We are currently reviewing theestablished safeguards to determine what systems broke down to allow this tohappen.”The future of Tapestry remains unclear, accordingto Berman, who was recently honored as the school’s Teacher of the Year.Berman resigned from his role as adviser after Roubian told him hewanted to implement prior review of Tapestry next school year. Bermansaid the administration’s reaction to “those three words” wasout of proportion for the circumstances.“I agreed that we had adifference of opinion,” Berman said. “[Roubian] was not going tochange. I respect him, but under those conditions I couldn’t becomfortable with him having prior approval. I just figured we’d go back tohow we used to be where the students themselves were censoring their work, so weended up with bland, beautiful magazines.”Tapestry isfunded by the student government as an after-school activity. A group of about16 students collects submissions and decides what to publish, Bermansaid.Berman’s creative writing class, which was just brought backthis past school year from a six-year hiatus, also may be in jeopardy becausesome of the submissions, including Warmus’s controversial work, wereoriginally written in it. Some students submit their creative writing courseworkto Tapestry for publication, but Berman said he does not give extracredit for those who do so. According to Berman, administrators mayimpose guidelines for his class that would force him to censor student work. Hesaid he does not know whether or not he will teach the class under therestrictions until he is made aware of them. Staff members, includingjunior Jerry Lin, said they were not aware that the education code did not allowprofanity in the magazine and were not given instructions by theadministration.Berman said the magazine has received minimal feedback inprevious years from the administration, but he suspected that current editionmight cause some to be upset. The students and Berman said that the content inpast editions was much more conservative.“I never filteranything,” Berman said. “My main emphasis has always been supportingwhat the students want to do with their magazine. This is the first year thishas led to any controversy. The tastes of the editors have changed, but Ihaven’t. ”Senior Kevin Liang, who has worked onTapestry for three years, agrees that editors this year took a moreliberal stance in the material they accepted. He says the content and languagereflects the emotions and events of a post-9/11 environment.“Thisyear’s submissions as a whole seemed to take on a gloomy, darktone,” he said. “And [the profane language] has been an accepted part ofour culture. We felt the submissions were a good representation of what studentswere going through or thinking, rather than the traditional non-profane languagethat people used to enter into the magazine.”Lin said that after adiscussion between editors they decided to respect the originality of the piecesby including the profane language.According to Berman, the remainingissues of Tapestry have been moved to an offsite location where they willlikely be destroyed. The student body will vote this fall on whether or not theywant to continue to allocate funds to its production and will be reevaluatingthe validity of the program, he said.Lin, who will return to Upland inthe fall, said he is concerned that new guidelines will hinder their artisticvoices. Liang, who has graduated, said he hopes the administrators will opentheir eyes to the importance of freedom of self-expression.“Tapestry is a place where students can express what theyare feeling in a creative way,” he said. “As soon as they startchecking what pieces they are turning in and turning away pieces theydon’t think are appropriate, I don’t think it will be a realrepresentation of what students are.”

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