Fear of censorship prompts students to cut out cartoon from all copies of paper

RHODE ISLAND — Concern for their adviser may have beenthe greatest motivator for Cumberland High School student journalists whodecided to cut out an editorial cartoon from all 2,500 copies of the Apriledition of the Bird’s Eye View.On April 29 staff membersvoted not to distribute the issue containing the cartoon, which depictedSuperintendent Joseph Nasif Jr. as a superhero who could fix leaky roofs, removeasbestos and remedy electrical problems. The cartoon was meant to draw attentionto delays in the school auditorium’s renovation.After the paper was printed but before it wasdistributed, adviser Nancy Dandurand showed the cartoon to Principal StephenDriscoll even though the district did not have a prior reviewpolicy.Driscoll saw the cartoon and told Dandurand, “I am askingyou not to print this,” she said.When Dandurand told the studentswhat Driscoll said, she told them the cartoon was legally protected, but wantedthe students to make a decision about distributing it.“Weweren’t concerned about getting in trouble. We were more concerned about[Dandurand’s] job,” editor Tessa Tomassini said. “We decidedto do what was best for the paper.”At the start of the schoolyear, Driscoll told the adviser that he did not intend to perform prior reviewbecause if he could not trust her judgment, she should not be given the job,just as he would not second-guess the football coach on the field, Dandurandsaid.When Nasif was first notified of the cartoon, he told The ValleyBreeze, a commercial newspaper in the area, that he favored some type ofreview policy, but the district has taken no formal steps to implementone.Nasif and Driscoll did not respond to requests forcomment.Tomassini and other staff members spent hours outside of classcutting the cartoon from the papers, leaving a noticeable hole in the bottomcorner of Page 3 of the paper. Tomassini said the cartoon’s absence promptedquestions from many students at the school. In place of the cartoon inthe paper’s online edition, a message read: “This political cartoon wasphysically cut out at the request of the principal even though it did notviolate any laws governing student press. The students were concerned that thepaper would be confiscated and result in the loss of many good and worthwhilearticles because of the lampoon on administration.”Teachersfocused lessons around First Amendment rights during the week after the paperwas distributed, and the newspaper’s staff members were surprised by theamount of attention they received, Dandurand said. The schoolyear’s final edition contained an editorial by Tomassini outlining keySupreme Court rulings on the rights of the student press and affirming thepaper’s commitment to publishing opinions that fall within the protectedcategories of speech.Next year Dandurand plans to oversee the newspaperas an extracurricular activity apart from the journalism class because theposition of newspaper adviser has been eliminated from the school budget.Dandurand said she did not believe the adviser position was eliminated becauseof the cartoon.Tomassini said she does not think the change will disruptproduction and hopes it will make the staff stronger because more students willbe able to work together in the after-school setting.The Bird’sEye View published five issues during the 2003-04 school year. It had been17 years since the paper published more than one issue during a school year.