H.S. freelancer suspended from school after contentious interview

NEW YORK — A high school student working as a freelance reporter for a local newspaper was suspended from school last month after a confrontation during an interview with a local middle school principal.

Gerard Mundy, a senior at Monroe-Woodbury High School with state-issued credentials as a freelance reporter, was working on a story on district school bus drivers. He tried to interview the principal at neighboring Monroe-Woodbury Middle School an hour after school let out on Oct. 6.

Upon passing four sets of school security officers, Mundy said he was invited into the principal’s office for the interview. When he brought up the students’ complaints about a verbally abusive bus driver, the principal ended the interview and asked Mundy to leave.

As he was leaving, Mundy said he continued to ask questions. After continuing to decline to comment, the principal informed Mundy that he was “dismissed,” Mundy said.

Mundy replied, “Only a jerk would treat a reporter like that.”

That afternoon, Mundy said, he was suspended by high school officials for trespassing, failure to leave when asked and insubordination resulting in a disruption of the school day.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “If a 40-year-old New York Times reporter were in my place, he would not have been treated like this.”

Mundy served his five-day suspension and was also prohibited from attending his school’s weekend pep rally, football game and homecoming dance.

The Student Press Law Center provided an opinion letter to Mundy on the legality of the school’s actions.

“It’s clear that Mundy was acting as a reporter, not a student,” said SPLC Executive Director Mark Goodman. “He wasn’t even in his own school building. School officials have no authority to punish him for his non-disruptive behavior after school hours.”

A district spokeswoman said the school’s attorneys are reviewing the letter with high school Principal Frank Moscati and could not comment further.

Mundy is seeking to have his record expunged of the suspension and an apology from the district saying that it violated his civil and constitutional rights.