Ill. high school administrators force student photographer to delete pictures

ILLINOIS — A broken window at Alton High School in Alton, at the center of a debate involving a student’s right to freedom of thepress.

After senior George Fiorini heard a brick was thrown through a window atthe school cafeteria overnight, he rushed to take pictures of the scene for thestudent newspaper and yearbook. Later that day, the window was covered up, andFiorini had the only photos of the vandalism.

According to Fiorini, the school resource officer asked for a copy of thepictures for evidence, and Fiorini agreed. When he went back to take morepictures to possibly send to the local paper, the Telegraph, anadministrator banned him from using his camera and called a meeting with theprincipal and school resource officer, during which they asked him to delete thephotos.

He said he was told that “since it was school property during schoolhours, the pictures belong to [the school] … They broke me down to thinkingthat I had no rights whatsoever as soon as I walk on schoolcampus.”

Fiorini said he had permission from his journalism teacher to take thephotos, but Principal Barbara Gillian said he never asked permission to take thephotos.

“He stated that he was taking the pictures for the police, and thatwas clearly not the case,” Gillian said. “He was not given anydirection by anybody to take the pictures. … He said I had given himpermission. I had not given him permission to take the pictures.”

The school policy prohibits student use of “cellular phone cameras,cameras and/or video recorders,” but Fiorini said that as a member of thenewspaper and yearbook staff, his press pass was his “authorization”to take photos.

He said Gillian was aware that he intended to send the pictures to theTelegraph. According to Fiorini, she told him not to use schoolresources, like computers, but that she could not stop him from sending thephotos otherwise.

Gillian added that administrators were concerned with minors being in thephotos, but Fiorini said that no minors were in the photos with the brokenwindow. Gillian said Fiorini did not receive any school discipline, and she doesnot feel his First Amendment rights were violated.

“I feel like he abused his privilege or responsibility to takepictures in a responsible manner for the school newspaper,” she said.”You don’t misrepresent the truth when you are a journalist. Thepurpose of journalism is to present the truth.”

Fiorini said he feels his rights were violated and plans to pursue legalaction.

“Kids really don’t know how many rights they actuallyhave,” he said. “We do have rights, they are limited, but we do havemore rights than we actually think.”