Several high school students in New Jersey balked after cracking open their yearbooks only to find pictures digitally edited in an apparent act of censorship — slogans in support of President Trump had simply vanished from their clothing.
Wall Township High School junior Grant Berardo did a double take when the “TRUMP: Make America Great Again” logo emblazoned on the shirt he chose for a school picture had somehow vanished from the final printing of the yearbook.
“He was disappointed,” noted Grant’s father, Joseph Berardo, quoted by CNN. “This was the first election he has been interested in.”
Indeed, high school can be a time students first begin to form political ideologies of their own, as the majority reach voting age before graduation — but pressure to conform also finds fertile breeding ground.
While the impetus for this ostensive political censorship remains unknown, the family is now seeking answers — and hope to have new yearbooks with the original pictures re-issued.
“I want the yearbooks to be reissued and I want a letter from the administration explaining why they are reissuing the yearbook,” the elder Berardo told CNN.
Grant’s parents, who, in line with school policy, disallowed any images of weapons, drugs, or alcohol on clothing for his yearbook picture, permitted the Trump-sloganed shirt — which appeared intact in November proofs they then approved for publication.
But upon issuance of the high school yearbook this spring, an edited version, sans the president’s MAGA campaign logo, stunned the family.
Grant wasn’t alone in having his Trump-supporting clothing putatively censored by unknown parties — two other students had political free speech erased by the surreptitious editor.
Junior Wyatt Dobrovich-Fago’s vest appears sans “TRUMP,” and a quote from the president — “I like thinking big. If you are going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big” — magically dematerialized from beneath the freshman class president photo of his sister, Montana.
“I want to know who thought it was okay to do this,” railed Janet Dobrovich-Fago, mother of Wyatt and Montana. “I want the school to seek disciplinary action and to be held accountable.”
School officials have yet to determine who censored the student pictures, but Wall Township Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Dyer announced an investigation into the matter in a letter to parents on June 9.
Quoted by CNN, Dyer wrote,
“There is nothing in our student dress code that would prevent a student from expressing his or her political views and support for a candidate for political office via appropriate clothing. Rather, I applaud students for becoming involved in politics and for participation in our democratic society.
“The high school administration was not aware of and does not condone any censorship of political views on the part of our students. This includes statements that they might make or clothing with references to candidates for public office that they might wear.”
Then, in a statement the following day, Dyer noted school district staff “strongly value the principles of free speech and inquiry in our schools and society, viewing them as the bedrock upon which our community and educational system is built. The allegations referenced above are disturbing, and any inappropriate challenge to these principles will be rectified as swiftly and thoroughly as possible. The actions of the staff involved will be addressed as soon as the investigation is concluded.”
Dyer insisted the school had not been involved in the digital censorship — which they discovered along with the students when yearbooks were issued — nor would such suppression of political speech be condoned.
“We were not aware of it until the books were distributed, we do not condone it, and we working on a remedy to the issue,” Dyer asserted Sunday. “I cannot discuss personnel matters, but I take this very seriously and it will be addressed appropriately.”
Joseph Berardo told CNN he’d queried school administrators on whether similar censoring of clothing or items supportive of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders had also taken place, but says no students or parents indicated as much.
“This is not just about my kids,” opined Janet Dobrovich-Fago. “This is for every student.”
As politics continue cleaving a seemingly unbridgeable divide in the United States, censorship and suppression of speech have become tools to quash dissent and opinions unpopular with the majority — but it is a reckless and foolhardy slippery slope that cannot be easily remedied once acceptable to the masses.
Outrage in cases like this has little to do with the message censored — and everything to do with the act of censoring as a violation of constitutional protections for free speech.
“There is an opportunity to use this as a teaching moment for the kids, and for the teachers as well,” Joseph Berardo asserted. “This is a First Amendment, freedom of speech issue.”
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Contributed by Claire Bernish of The Daily Sheeple.