Students say Ariz. principal confiscated newspapers to censor editorial

ARIZONA — A Mesa junior high school principal hasconfiscated the latest issue of the student newspaper because of an editorialcritical of the school’s dress code enforcement, student journalists said.During the week of Jan. 16, Fremont Junior High School Principal Dwayne Priester confiscated 1,400copies of the Purple People Reader because of an editorial charging thatthe dress code’s enforcement is racially biased. Newspaper staffers arechallenging the principal’s action and want the papers released. “If hecan’t take [an opinion] from a 15-year-old kid, he can’t get very far,” reporterAshley Morelos said. “He’s immature. We’re not messing around any more. We’renot letting him walk all over us.”The problems began when studentssubmitted the newspaper to Priester and three English teachers for proofreadingprior to publication. Editor Kristen DeBenon said neither the principal nor theEnglish teachers raised concerns about the editorial when they reviewed it. However, students said the principal objected to the editorial after he saw itin print. “[The bandana editorial] was deemed to be very unbalanced init’s reporting,” 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.”Students said administrators searchedadviser Cynthia Wong’s classroom for copies of the Reader when Wong wasnot present. Rottman also said the principal requested changes because he fearedan editorial might stir racial tension.According to the editorial”Bandanas at Fremont:” “Caucasian people can and are wearing them. If a Hispanicperson wears one he/she will get dress coded! Now is that fair? Oh, and if aCaucasian person hangs out with Hispanics they get dress coded.”Studentsaid Priester claims he affixed a note on the editorial ordering students toomit it, but staffers maintain they saw no note. “He gave us the okay toprint it,” DeBenon said. When the newspaper was printed, however,Priester “blew up at [it],” DeBenon said. Newspaper staffers said theprincipal did not catch obvious grammar and spelling mistakes when he reviewedthe paper prior to publication, leading some staffers to question whether heactually read the newspaper. DeBenon said the staff is writing lettersto Superintendent Debra Duval and Rottman, requesting the release of thenewspapers. If need be, the staff will take the issue to court, DeBenonsaid.”It’s made me realize sometimes things aren’t going to be easy, butyou need to fight for them anyway,” DeBenon said. “You shouldn’t have what yousay or do held against you. That’s what America’s about. It’s about freedom. Youcan’t be an American and not grant other Americans freedom.”Studentssaid the journalism class will not be offered next school year and thatadministrators have given no explanation why. “Without this class Iwouldn’t know what I want to do in life,” DeBenon said. “Other kids want to havethis opportunity, so I’m fighting for them and for everybody’s hard work.Staffers are working on the next issue of the Purple PeopleReader, but they said they anticipate even greater censorship. Priester and Rottman said they would not comment.

View the editorial here.