School alters student's critical column

NEW JERSEY -- Although months of lobbying Pinelands Regional School District for an anti-censorship policy yielded no results, recent graduate Andrew Resch is determined to continue the pursuit.

Resch, who graduated from Pinelands High School in June, began a debate with the district in December of 2004 when administrators altered an opinion article he wrote for The Scratching Post, the school's student newspaper.

His article, ''Un-College Prep,'' criticized the Pinelands Board of Education's decision to discontinue double periods of lab sciences. After submitting the article to Pinelands Principal Thomas Procopio, the article was altered to reflect the opinions of the administration.

Several sentences were deleted and replaced by less critical statements under a new headline, ''Science Department Revamps.'' Resch asked administrators to remove his name from the article and it printed with ''staff'' in its place.

After the publication of the altered article, Resch attended two school board meetings where he pleaded his case for an anti-censorship policy. But no action was taken on the issue, he said.

In February, while speaking to the school board for the second time, he presented its members with the Student Press Law Center's Model Guidelines for Student Publications.

''Again, they just sat there,'' Resch said of the board's reaction to his proposal of the policy.

Resch printed hundreds of copies of ''Un-College Prep'' and handed them out at school. The administration made no attempt to prevent his self-published article from reaching the students and staff of the school.

With some help, Resch hopes the district will finally hear his case and adopt a policy that would prevent censorship.

In a letter dated June 10, Jeanne LoCicero, the staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, accused the district of violating Resch's First Amendment rights and asked District Superintendent Detlef Kern to issue an apology to Resch and adopt the SPLC Model Guidelines for Student Publications.

''There are educational benefits when students are encouraged to express themselves freely,'' LoCicero wrote. ''Educators and administrators have recognized that school policies that value the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press provide students (not only those directly participating in school publications) with an invaluable educational experience.''

LoCicero requested a response from Kern by June 20. The ACLU is considering its next steps after Kern failed to meet the request, LoCicero said in an e-mail.

''We are confident that if this case is examined by a court, it would find that Pinelands violated Mr. Resch's constitutional rights,'' she said.

Resch said he believes the district assumes if they ignore him, he will give up when he leaves to attend Clarion University in the fall. But he said he does not intend to back down.

''They figure if they ignore it long enough it will just go away,'' he explained. ''I plan to keep on pursuing this until I get justice.''

Fall 2005, reports