A New Jersey high school yearbook adviser has been suspended amid an investigation into censorship allegations over photos and a quotation that were altered to remove references to President Trump, according to news reports.
Three students at Wall High School in central New Jersey noticed the changes in their yearbooks late last week, and their parents have since been calling for action.
Wall Township public schools Superintendent Cheryl Dyer said last week that the district learned about “an allegation of censorship and the possible violation of First Amendment rights” and was investigating the matter. She told USA Today late Monday that the teacher, whom she would not name, was suspended “pending further disciplinary action.” NJ.com reported that the teacher has been suspended indefinitely with pay while the district investigates the allegations.
Dyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the suspension. It’s still unclear what role the teacher may have played in the yearbook alterations.
On picture day in October, one student, junior Wyatt Dobrovich-Fago, had worn a fleece vest with a Trump campaign logo, but it appeared to be cropped out in the yearbook. His sister, Montana, who was freshman-class president, was missing a Trump quote that was meant to appear beneath her photo. “I like thinking big. If you are going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big,” it read, according to CNN.
But perhaps the most blatant edit was to 17-year-old Grant Berardo’s “TRUMP Make America Great Again!” T-shirt, which was apparently altered in his yearbook photo to remove the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign slogan. In the yearbook, the high school junior appeared to be wearing a plain and simple, dark-colored T-shirt.
Grant’s father, Joseph Berardo, said in a Facebook post Monday night that he had met with the school administration earlier in the day and was informed that the teacher had been suspended.
“There was a lapse in judgement and mistakes were made. I suspect there will be meaningful consequences,” Berardo wrote.
“I refuse to be censored although my son was,” he added. “Issues like these are too important to look the other way. HOWEVER, if we agree to talk instead of shout, I believe we can always find common ground.”
Berardo earlier told The Washington Post that school pictures were sent home to the students’ families after the election and that there did not seem to be any issue with Grant’s portrait.
In fact, he said, Grant’s picture was used as his school identification photo.
“He was just really surprised; it was the first election he ever took an interest in,” he said of his son. “His question was, ‘Is it okay? Did someone do something here that they shouldn’t have done?’ That’s why I’m pursuing it.” He said he wants his son to understand that “although these are your teachers and administrators, there are still things you’re permitted to do through the Constitution.”
Dyer, the superintendent, previously said in a statement, “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.”
“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,” she said. “Indeed, the administration applauds students for becoming involved in politics, making their voices known, and taking an active part in our democracy.”
The district has not identified the suspended adviser, but Berardo said it was Susan Parsons, who has worked for the district for 15 years, according to her course website. The course site states that Parsons oversees Yearbook 1, 2 and 3, as well as other technology courses such as digital media, Web page design, computer repair and digital animation and gaming.
Parsons could not immediately be reached Tuesday for comment and an email sent to her school email address came back as “undeliverable.” But she told the New York Post, “We have never made any action against any political party.”
She would not say who made the edits, according to the New York Post.