WALL TOWNSHIP, N.J.– Some parents at one central New Jersey high school are up in arms after discovering that their children’s High School year book photos were digitally altered by someone who did not agree with the students’ pro-Trump beliefs.
The parents of 17 year old Grant Berardo say they had no problem with their son’s decision to wear a Make America Great Again photo on school picture day in October. They were baffled, however, they say when they discovered that the logo had been edited out when their son brought his high school year book home.
“He just wanted to memorialize what was going on in the country at the time,” the boy’s father, Joseph Berardo, told The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2017/06/12/parents-outraged-after-pro-trump-messages-were-edited-out-of-this-high-schools-yearbooks/?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.8e1c7fb4dd4e). Bernardo says he was astounded because the shirt did not violate the school’s dress code in any way and contained no reference to drugs, alcohol or weapons.
Shockingly, Bernardo’s shirt was not the only pro-Trump shirt to be altered.
At least two other shirts were changed to remove pro- Trump messages. According to their parents, a Trump logo on a shirt worn by junior Wyatt Dobrovich-Fago and a quote by the president that was meant to appear beneath sister Montana’s picture were also missing from the teens’ year book photos. “I like thinking big. If you are going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big,” the quote was supposed to read.
Janet Dobrovich-Fago, the mother of the siblings whose photos were altered, told NJ.com (http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2017/06/students_trump_shirt_black-out_in_high_school_year.html) that she’s outraged by what she calls a clear case of political censorship.
“We’re very angry,” Dobrovich-Fago said. “When we saw that Montana’s quote dropped out, we thought it was a mistake because all the other class presidents’ quotes were still there.
“But when we saw that Wyatt’s shirt was photoshopped and we heard about Grant, I knew this was not a coincidence. This was purposeful, and it’s wrong.”
A spokesperson for Wall Township schools has refused to comment on who may have been behind the edits, but in a statement (http://www2.wall.k12.nj.us/superintendent/2017/06/10/yearbook-investigation/) school superintendent Cheryl Dyer said the district does not condone censorship.
The statement in its entirety reads:
“The administration of the Wall Township Public Schools is aware of an allegation of censorship and the possible violation of First Amendment rights in the high school yearbook this year. This allegation is being taken very seriously and a thorough investigation of what happened is being vigorously pursued.
As of today, two parents have notified the school district of ways in which the attire of their children was altered in yearbook photos. Further, there are claims that comments or quotes offered for inclusion in the yearbook were not published. References to and support of President Trump were involved in each of these incidents.
While the investigation is ongoing, the administration of the Wall Township Public Schools would stress three initial points:
First, there is nothing in Wall Township High School’s student dress code that would prevent a student from expressing his or her political views, or support for a political figure, via appropriate clothing and attire. Indeed, the administration applauds students for becoming involved in politics, making their voices known, and taking an active part in our democracy.
Second, the administration of Wall High School was not aware of and does not condone any censorship of political views on the part of our students. This includes statements that students might make, or clothing that advocates for specific political views, candidates, or public officials. Our dress code does, however, prohibit references to illegal activity such as the use of drugs, alcohol or weapons.
Third, the administration and staff of the Wall Township Public Schools 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.
Thank you for your concern and continued support.”
As for Joseph Berardo, he feels that’s just not good enough. Instead, the outraged father is demanding that the school reissue the yearbook, complete with an admission of guilt.
“I want the yearbooks to be reissued and I want a letter from the administration explaining why they are reissuing the yearbook,” he said.
Berardo added that the school could utilize the incident to express the importance of the First Amendment.
“There is an opportunity to use this as a teaching moment for the kids, and for the teachers as well,” the father said. “This is a First Amendment, freedom of speech issue.”