NEW JERSEY –The first time this year that administrators censored Columbia HighSchool’s student-produced cable channel, they nixed public serviceannouncements in February that portrayed the school as dilapidated anddirty.
The second time administrators tried to silence the ColumbiaCable Network, a student-run program that airs on the local cable channel, wasduring Black History Month when the principal deemed a student-produceddocumentary to be ”too divisive,” students said.
After apetition, several meetings with administrators, an appeal to the school boardand two walkouts to protest administrators’ actions, both videos wereaired yesterday.
In October, Columbia Cable Network beganairing anti-littering public service announcements that featured unflatteringshots of the school such as the green, scummy swimming pool, empty canslittering the dingy hallways and graffiti-covered walls, said Frank Mullin, CCNfaculty adviser.
Months later, Mullin said a school contract workercame to the CCN classroom to request the tapes. Mullin said the worker told himthe district’s business administrator, Karla Milanetti, wanted to reviewthe tapes after she received a call from a parent who was shocked by thecondition of the school.
Milanetti did not return calls seekingcomment.
A few days later, the assistant principal of the schoolinformed Mullin that District Superintendent Peter Horoschak wanted CCN to
”immediately cease to air and produce anything of this nature,”according to Mullin.
Horoschak also did not respond to requests forcomment.
Jared Boyer, a student and CCN crewmember, said when thestaff tried to reach administrators, they were not given straight answers andwere left wondering why their littering segments were being squelched withoutexplanation.
He said he thought the tapes were deemed inappropriatebecause administrators wanted to hide from parents that the school wasrun-down.
”They’re not doing anything about the conditionof the school, they know they’re not and they don’t want the parentsto find out,” Boyer said.
Ellen Bass, the schooldistrict’s attorney, said the ”elegant but very old” school isin need of repair and that the district does its best to keep up with it. Shesaid she thought the concern the business administrator had was that some areashighlighted in the video underwent repairs after filming. She did not know,specifically, what repairs had been made.
”There was a feelingfrom the administration that the pieces the kids produced were not entirelybalanced,” Bass said.
Bass said the school, which has anewspaper, a teen magazine and the award-winning CCN, does not ”believe incensorship.”
”I think what happened here wasmiscommunication,” Bass said.
Boyer started a petition toprotest the banning of the tapes and managed to get 1,255 signatures in threeschool days, he said.
Aside from being told not to air the littering tapes,the staff was also getting flack from administrators about a documentary thestation planned to air for Black History Month. The documentary was made by astudent and compared the Black Panther movement of the 1960s to the early 1990ship-hop movement.
The video was going to be part of a Black HistoryMonth assembly that CCN would broadcast. According to Mullin, Principal ReneePollack told students the video could not air because it would be ”toodivisive.” Another student-produced video about the Million Man March wasalso shot down by administrators, Mullin said.
In place of the twovideos, Pollack called several CCN staff members to her office and handed them ascript she wanted them to read on air, Boyer said. The students complied and dida broadcast on Feb. 28 featuring a student who performed a monologue about afather who walked out on his family after his wife cheated onhim.
The monologue was introduced as being representative of
”the common black struggle,” said student MelissaMontalvo,
Following the monologue was a Black History Month educationvideo that was, ”so second grade,” said Montalvo, who is a seniorand president of a school club honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
Shesaid students were upset by the presentation and frustrated with theirprincipal.
”It’s a stereotype and I would think as aprofessional leader, she would not have displayed that for Black HistoryMonth,” Montalvo said.
Montalvo said she met with Pollack andtold her, ”This program does not celebrate our heritage. It’sdisgusting.”
Pollack did not return calls seeking comment, butschool officials agreed the Feb. 28 Black History Month presentation was adisappointment.
”The Columbia High School community was nothappy with it,” said Bass, the district’sattorney.
Following the presentation, students staged a walkout tocall for the resignation of the principal and the superintendent, Mullin said.Students again walked out of school in protest last week.
On the air atlast
At its March 6 meeting, the South Orange and MaplewoodBoard of Education approved the public service announcement and thestudent-produced video intended for the Black History Month assembly.
”The board saw nothing wrong with them,” Mullin said.
At its March 20 meeting, the board called for a do-over of thebotched Black History Month celebration, Mullin said.
”Onething that makes me very proud of this district is if we mess up, we set itstraight,” Bass said.
The littering videos, in their originalform, are once again being broadcast, Mullin said.
And studentsfinally watched the Black Panther/Hip-hop documentary and the Million Man Marchvideo in a Black History Month assembly yesterday.
By severalaccounts from school officials, the documentaries were so good ”you couldhear a pin drop.”