Students say Ariz. principal confiscated newspapers to censor anti-dress code editorial

A Mesa junior high school principal confiscated the studentnewspaper last month because of an editorial critical of the school’s dress codeenforcement, student journalists said.

During the week of Jan. 16,Fremont Junior High School Principal Dwayne Priester confiscated 1,400 copies ofthe Purple People Reader because of an editorial charging that the dresscode’s enforcement is racially biased.

Newspaper staffers are challengingthe principal’s action and want the papers released.

“If he can’t take[an opinion] from a 15-year-old kid, he can’t get very far,” reporter AshleyMorelos said.

The problems began when students submitted the newspaper toPriester and three English teachers for proofreading prior to publication.Editor Kristen DeBenon said neither the principal nor the English teachersraised concerns about the editorial when they reviewed it. However, studentssaid the principal objected to the editorial after he saw it inprint.

“[The bandana editorial] was deemed to be very unbalanced in it’sreporting,” Linda Rottman, assistant superintendent of Mesa Unified SchoolDistrict, was quoted as saying in the Feb. 6 edition of the East ValleyTribune. “The principal stands in the role of the publisher. He exercisedhis responsibility as publisher.”

Rottman also said the principalrequested changes because he feared an editorial might stir racialtension.

According to the editorial “Bandanas at Fremont:” “Caucasianpeople can and are wearing them. If a Hispanic person wears one he/she will getdress coded! Now is that fair? Oh, and if a Caucasian person hangs out withHispanics they get dress coded.”

Students said administrators searchedadviser Cynthia Wong’s classroom for copies of the Reader when Wong wasnot present.

DeBenon said the staff is writing letters to SuperintendentDebra Duval and Rottman, requesting the release of the newspapers. If need be,the staff will take the issue to court, DeBenon said.

“It’s made merealize sometimes things aren’t going to be easy, but you need to fight for themanyway,” DeBenon said. “You shouldn’t have what you say or do held against you.That’s what America’s about. It’s about freedom. You can’t be an American andnot grant other Americans freedom.”

Students said the journalism classwill not be offered next school year and that administrators have given noexplanation why.

“Without this class I wouldn’t know what I want to do inlife,” DeBenon said. “Other kids want to have this opportunity, so I’m fightingfor them and for everybody’s hard work.

Staffers are working on the nextissue of the Purple People Reader, but they said they anticipate evengreater censorship.