Two Bethesda eighth-graders have been suspended from school for writing stories and selling a magazine that their principal called libelous and obscene, and their parents are appealing the decision to Montgomery County School Superintendent Edward Andrews.
The students, Peter Weinberg and Jesse Oppenheimer, both 13, were suspended April 12 from Westland Intermediate School by Principal H. Benjamin Marlin shortly after Marlin was informed of the nature of the boys' independent magazine and was shown a copy of it.
The six-page magazine, called The Radical Establishment, was written as a lampoon of teachers, administrators and the school system.
The parents, who claim that their sons' punishment was excessive, are also trying to stop the county school system from transferring them to another school.
"This whole thing has just been blown totally out of proportion," said Joni Weinberg, mother of one of the boys. "We're really getting a dirty deal."
School spokesman Kenneth Muir termed the magazine "clearly objectionable" and said Marlin acted properly in stopping its distribution under libel and obscenity guidelines in the county's Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook.
The boys sold about 15 of the magazines, which were run off on a duplicating machine, for 75 cents each to fellow students.
The stories included a fantasy about the time travels of an English warlock and a satire on O. Henry short stories. Two other articles described the imagined sexual proclivities of Marlin and a teacher at the school.
After reading the magazine, Marlin questioned the boys, called their parents and the police, tracked down all but one of the copies that were sold and suspended the authors for five days. Marlin then asked school officials for an additional five days' suspension and a transfer of the boys to another school, a request that was granted by associate superintendent Alan Dodd.
While their parents appeal the decision, the boys are being tutored at home.
Jesse Oppenheimer's parents are both journalists. Jerry Oppenheimer is a reporter for the National Enquirer and his wife, Judy, is an editor at the Montgomery Sentinel.
Joni Weinberg said she and the Oppenheimers do not dispute the issues of libel or obscenity raised by the case, but strenuously object to the way the school system has handled the affair.
"The boys are highly intelligent and have never caused trouble before," she said. "Some kids shoplift, others are into drugs, but as far as I can tell, no one has been treated more severely than these two. It would have been better to have them write a paper or something on the ethics of journalism. They were never even given a chance to apologize."
The parents' appeal to Andrews was made earlier this week. If that fails, the parents say they will appeal to the county Board of Education.