Students say Ariz. principal confiscated newspapers to censor editorial

Principal objected to editorial because it was 'unbalanced'

ARIZONA -- A Mesa junior high school principal has confiscated the latest issue of the student newspaper because of an editorial critical of the school's dress code enforcement, student journalists said. During the week of Jan. 16, Fremont Junior High School Principal Dwayne Priester confiscated 1,400 copies of the Purple People Reader because of an editorial charging that the dress code's enforcement is racially biased. Newspaper staffers are challenging the principal's action and want the papers released. "If he can't take [an opinion] from a 15-year-old kid, he can't get very far," reporter Ashley Morelos said. "He's immature. We're not messing around any more. We're not letting him walk all over us."The problems began when students submitted the newspaper to Priester and three English teachers for proofreading prior to publication. Editor Kristen DeBenon said neither the principal nor the English teachers raised concerns about the editorial when they reviewed it. However, students said the principal objected to the editorial after he saw it in print. "[The bandana editorial] was deemed to be very unbalanced in it's reporting," Linda Rottman, assistant superintendent of Mesa Unified School District, was quoted as saying in the Feb. 6 edition of the East Valley Tribune. "The principal stands in the role of the publisher. He exercised his responsibility as publisher."Students said administrators searched adviser Cynthia Wong's classroom for copies of the Reader when Wong was not present. Rottman also said the principal requested changes because he feared an editorial might stir racial tension.According to the editorial "Bandanas at Fremont:" "Caucasian people can and are wearing them. If a Hispanic person wears one he/she will get dress coded! Now is that fair? Oh, and if a Caucasian person hangs out with Hispanics they get dress coded."Student said Priester claims he affixed a note on the editorial ordering students to omit it, but staffers maintain they saw no note. "He gave us the okay to print it," DeBenon said. When the newspaper was printed, however, Priester "blew up at [it]," DeBenon said. Newspaper staffers said the principal did not catch obvious grammar and spelling mistakes when he reviewed the paper prior to publication, leading some staffers to question whether he actually read the newspaper. DeBenon said the staff is writing letters to Superintendent Debra Duval and Rottman, requesting the release of the newspapers. If need be, the staff will take the issue to court, DeBenon said."It's made me realize sometimes things aren't going to be easy, but you need to fight for them anyway," DeBenon said. "You shouldn't have what you say or do held against you. That's what America's about. It's about freedom. You can't be an American and not grant other Americans freedom."Students said the journalism class will not be offered next school year and that administrators have given no explanation why. "Without this class I wouldn't know what I want to do in life," DeBenon said. "Other kids want to have this opportunity, so I'm fighting for them and for everybody's hard work. Staffers are working on the next issue of the Purple People Reader, but they said they anticipate even greater censorship. Priester and Rottman said they would not comment.

View the editorial here.