Mohawk to replace page in yearbooks 

  • The Mohawk Trail Regional School. Recorder file photo/Micky Bedell

For the Gazette
Published: 5/24/2016 3:33:36 AM

BUCKLAND — Mohawk Trail Regional High School students were able to pick up their school yearbooks Monday afternoon, after school administrators spoke with a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and decided to replace a yearbook page — sliced out of the printed books — with a new one that omits a group photo that included a former teacher  accused of inappropriate conduct.

Mohawk Superintendent Michael Buoniconti said the district had reached a “tentative agreement” with the ACLU, and that “the removed page will be revised to replace one photo.” He said the revised page, showing this year’s Booster Week activities, will be put together by students who are on the yearbook staff and by class officers. The school district will then pay to print the revised page for reinsertion into the yearbook.

The Mohawk district includes students from Plainfield in Hampshire County and seven Franklin County towns.

Last week, a school administrator took the page out of the yearbooks, because “it was evident to the administration that the page in question would be harmful to the well-being of several students,” Buoniconti had said, in an email sent to school parents. He said these students “have already been victimized by a trusted adult, and the Mohawk District will not be insensitive to their ongoing emotional needs.”

The yearbooks were to be distributed Friday afternoon, but that was put on hold after an ACLU representative contacted school officials over censorship concerns raised by Mohawk students.

Buoniconti said that the ACLU “is threatening litigation based on a complaint” about the removed page.

However, Sarah R. Wunsch, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said “there was no threat to litigate,” just to defend students’ rights regarding censorship.

“What was the most important thing was for the students to get their yearbooks,” she said. “But there still is censorship; that photo is being removed.

“I sympathize with the students that have been hurt, but the method the school has chosen to address that hurt is wrong,” she said. “We don’t cut pictures out of books to protect and help people heal.

“We understand the school has released the yearbooks and will be providing a replacement page for students who want them,” she said Monday. “While we are disturbed that the school cut a page (two sides) out of the yearbooks because of one picture, we applaud the students who questioned this kind of censorship.

“There is an ongoing disagreement between ACLU and the school system about its right to censor the yearbook — based on the Massachusetts law that gives more protection to student freedom of expression than under the First Amendment. We hope to have more discussion with the administration, teachers and students about those rights,” she said.

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