Startling new details are beginning to emerge about events four years ago at New Rochelle High School that culminated in our exclusive story last week that pages were torn out of dozens of copies of Susanna Kaysen’s memoir Girl, Interrupted.
In 2004, up to six students were reportedly suspended in an incident which was directly associated with the chapter in question, sources say. The complaint did not originate from the faculty, as the district has previously stated, but from other building staff with connections to local community-based organizations. Various constituencies within the City of New Rochelle were heard from on the issue and the decision to remove the chapter from the book appears to have been directly influenced by these same outside organizations.
If so, the decision may well constitute a violation of the First Amendment rights of students as defined by the Supreme Court in U.S. Supreme Court in Board of Education, Island Trees School District v. Pico.
In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled:
Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.
The shocking nature of the incident which reportedly led to the suspension of the students might explain the evasive answers provided by New Rochelle High School Principal Don Conetta after our story broke.
“We really can’t determine exactly how this came about,” Principal Donald Conetta said. “But it doesn’t matter. The fact is that it came about, and that’s not how we operate. We don’t censor and when any book is tampered with; it creates concern.”
The Supreme Court has made clear that how and why a book is banned, restricted or otherwise censored does matter. Motive is at the heart of the Court’s decision in Pico.
The New Rochelle High School English Department has publicly admitted to a “lapse in judgement” in removing the pages. The head of the English Department reports to Mr. Conetta. There has been no explanation from Conetta or the District as to precisely why Mr. Conetta is prevented from determining “exactly how this came about”?
Mr. Conetta has been employed by the District as a senior administration in the school district, first as an Assistant Principal then later as Principal during the entire period in question. Given the nature of the incident which led to the suspension of the students it hardly seems credible that any senior administrator at the school would be unaware of the events surrounding the incident in question.