***** TALK OF THE SOUND EXCLUSIVE ***** New Rochelle Sex Censorship Linked to Suspension of Students in ’04

Written By: Robert Cox

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.

15 thoughts on “***** TALK OF THE SOUND EXCLUSIVE ***** New Rochelle Sex Censorship Linked to Suspension of Students in ’04”

  1. Threats, threats and more threats!
    “Reveal your source so we can fire them!”

    Gee, that sounds compelling. You are quite the persuader.

  2. Robert, Interrupted
    Dear Mr. Cox,

    I attended the meeting tonight and listened to the speakers (BOE and community) very carefully (as well as the wonderful sopranos singing holiday music, etc.). It was the perfect close to a relaxing day spent in New Ro: my eyebrows were bowdlerized (note the passive voice), I bought wine, drove through snowy New Ro streets, caught up with ex-teachers and media specialists (go Steve!), and the chair I sat in was surprisingly comfortable.

    My meeting notes:

    1. Thank heaven the BOE uses a buzzer to curtail speeches.

    2. Sam Stone (sp?) mentioned how this censorship debacle reminds us of “Nazism”–I imagine he was referring to the extremist comments posted on your site. However, in my view, commenters who use the terms “Nazism” or “fascism” are to be dismissed as unreasonable people. Sure, Babcock-Deutsch is unfortunately Germanic-sounding, but one shouldn’t invoke Godwin’s Law (analogies to Hitler) in this case. When you examine the details of this incident, there is no need to cry “conspiracy” like a 911 Truth loony.

    3. Ross Flores (sp?): good to see the student body president, who says he represents all 3,300 students. Where is the Herald EIC?

    4. My favorite speaker, a fellow alum, was Jonathan W. who was “appalled” and noted that “there’s a difference between protecting [students from inappropriate material] and acting in an irrational way.” Good for him, the only community speaker to say we should all make sure this doesn’t happen again.

    5. Martin Daly. He referred to you and your blog and I was perplexed as to why you ultimately did not share your thoughts at the meeting, especially since you name-called him a “coward” on this blog.

    6. One speaker said Don Conetta “wrapped a beautiful bow” on something.

    7. B. (who lives on Bon Air) demanded accountability in a reasonable way. He remarked that the person responsible for the act should step forward. I agree, though I also believe it’s out of the NR BOE’s hands, since that person doesn’t work at NRHS anymore. I’m positive there’s no way to retroactively reprimand a teacher, but I could be wrong.

    Moving forward … since I’d critiqued the NR BOE on their language, I would like to take a moment to address my grievances with yours.

    1. Not so much language, but your poll: it’s rigged. That’s the only way to evaluate the data. My feeling is that you’re not too savvy w/r/t Internet stuff (e.g., IP addresses), and didn’t realize that your multiple voting could be seen by any visitor to this site. I find this mildly appalling (since this poll doesn’t affect anyone), and my point is that you enthusiastically argue for justice, honesty and accountability, but evidently on your own blog’s poll, according to its data, you’ve adjusted the results to reflect your own opinion. Mr. Cox, this is not acceptable. [Sidenote to Don Conetta: “data” is always plural, I heard you use it in the singular tonight.]

    2. Mr. Cox, I would advise you to try to put forth your opinions in a less sarcastic and mocking, negative-toned way, because I believe your heart’s in the right place. I don’t doubt that. However, you’ve resorted to childish name-calling (Daly = “coward,” for one), incessant re-citation of yourself as the source of this story–which in itself, is a non-story and not the issue at hand.

    2a. This is what I mean by “incessant re-citation” [all caps emphasis mine]:

    12.16: “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 …”

    12.13: “Fortunately, you are not me … otherwise this censorship issue would never have to come light, right? // In fact, no criticism of the school district would ever be made.”

    12.12: “The City School District of New Rochelle came under widespread criticism when THIS WEB SITE revealed on Monday …”

    12.12: “… [T]o replace copies of Girl, Interrupted after OUR EXCLUSIVE REPORT FIRST BROKE THE NEWS that pages had been torn from the best-selling memoir.”

    12.11: “Two days after WE FIRST BROKE THE STORY that copies of Susanna Kaysen’s memoir Girl, Interrupted had been torn apart by school officials, the Journal News finally got around to reporting the story only after the school district sent them a press release.”

    12.10: “While it is nice to see OUR STORY get pick [sic] up in The Journal News …”

    Mr. Cox: it is not YOUR story, but the community’s. You were the first to report it, that’s a given and good for you, but you continually emphasize this fact, which has nothing to do with the real issue, for instance here:

    “Setting aside the grammatical problems, why no link back to OUR ORIGINAL STORY? We were considered a reliable enough source to lift our quote from Ms. Atlschul. How about a little credit for breaking the story?”

    12.10: “In response to OUR EXCLUSIVE REPORT on Monday …”

    12.09: “OUR STORY yesterday on the decision of the New Rochelle school district to tear pages out of a book assigned to high school seniors has, so far, been read by well over 1,000,000 people from around the world.”

    Again, a non-story.

    Mr. Cox, I have respect for you as a person who is passionate, and believe you really do care about this issue. But as the evidence suggests: your inaccurate and rigged polling, as well as the insane amount of times you’ve re-referred to yourself as the source of this community story, I cannot help but conclude that you are seeking attention (especially in the line noted above, where you are literally asking for recognition from the JOURNAL NEWS (“How about a little credit for breaking the story?”)).

    I’ll give you this: I don’t think you’re “merely” seeking attention; your motives are more complex than that. However, I would recommend writing in a more measured and reasonable way, because others would be more open to hearing your ideas instead of dismissing them. I, myself, would prefer that, since over-emotionalism (especially if the feeling is anger) rubs me the wrong way.

    More importantly, negative-toned speech and sarcasm (unless you’re Swift or Nietzsche) undermine your argument, which I would like to believe is very sound at its core.

    Take care and happy holidays,
    Tara Baltazar
    Editor-in-Chief, Huguenot Herald, ’95

    P.S. Thank you for breaking this story.

    1. Thanks for the advice

      I am sorry we did not get a chance to meet.

      Let me help you understand a few things.

      This is not the Huguenot Herald or a traditional newspaper or any sort of mainstream media outlet. This is a Drupal installation which allows anyone to register and create a blog (or comment) and have their say. I would direct you to the ABOUT page for the site (http://www.newrochelletalk.com/node/28) where you can read more. Anyone who wishes to defend the district or criticize me is free to do so on this site – as is quite clear from some of what has been published. They can do so under their own name or anonymously.

      As for making it a point to provide links and refer back to previous posts, this is standard operating procedure for blogs. The reason is that one never knows how a reader will find the site. By including links back to previous posts the reader can be guided elsewhere in the site to get back to the beginning of the story. Most blogs get about 50% of their traffic from Google alone which means many readers are arriving at the site from the “side” rather than “top down”. The fact is that I do not link enough because it is time consuming.

      With regard to your concerns about language and tone, this is also pretty standard for blogs. You must be familiar with the term “snarky”. A major goal of this site is to achieve 2,000 unique readers a day, to have a Google Page Rank of 4 or 5 and be among the top 10 search results for the term “New Rochelle”. You don’t get there in the blogging world by writing milquetoast critiques of school board resolutions on the purchase of staplers. To that extent, there is a tabloid element to blogs and so we have headlines like “PANIC MODE” and “CENSORSHIP CRISIS”.

      Some like David Lacher have already complained about this or that some of the ways things are worded on the site are “unfair”. Fair has gotten nothing to do with it. The reason those who work on the site want it to grow its audience is to ultimately have a platform where anyone in town can speak their piece. Traditional gatekeepers such as the School Board, City Council members, bureaucrats and apparathicks find the prospect of citizens being able to bypass the filter of government and corporate media terrifying. These are people who give lip service to the First Amendment and then recoil when people who disagree with them actually make use of it.

      In my case, school officials and others have responded to my work on this blog by sending the police to my house, suppressing my criticism of the district at board meetings, failing to comply with the New York State Freedom of Information Law, and various other reactionary measures. Some of these same people have said, in various ways, if you are going to criticize the way the school district is run you should move away.

      This is a rather strange notion of democracy. If you disagree with me then shut up, if you won’t shut up then leave, if you won’t leave then we will make you leave.

      This site has only been up a for a few months. It is still early days. Let’s see where we are on the one year anniversary. Let’s see if some of the claims made to rebut posts on this site stand up to closer scrutiny. Let’s see how many “isolated incidents” there really are in the New Rochelle school system.

      As those “isolated incidents” begin to stack up, it may be that those who came to this site to condemn it wake up one day to find that they have been duped by the very people who they rushed here to defend. And then the worm will definitely have turned.

      Time will tell 🙂

      1. Thanks for your reply.
        I’m very familiar with snarky blogs and I’m not a fan of them (e.g., Gawker).

        Fairness does have something to do with how we speak online. One example of a fair blogger is Andrew Sullivan, who writes for The Atlantic.

        You still have not answered my question about your skewed poll.

        Please elaborate …

      2. I have answered your question about the poll…
        … apparently you don’t like the answer. Sorry but that’s all you’re going to get on that one.

        I would suspect I was reading Andrew’s blog long before you, I am quite familiar with it. If you poke around a bit you might found out why. You might also have noticed that his guest blogger linked my original post on “Girl, Interrupted” with a h/t to Crooks and Liars. You think these things are all coincidences?

      3. You are such a fascinating
        You are such a fascinating person, Mr. Cox.

        But not really.

        Q: Where exactly is your answer regarding the poll? I only notice my comments missing–do you mean your note about how you (predictably) removed your survey? You also removed my comments where I mentioned that you voted multiple times, on the same IP addresses in favor of your own opinion.

        Why are my comments censored? Where did they go?

        I saw that Sullivan linked to your blog, as well as the link on Crooks and Liars, and yes, you have probably been reading Sullivan’s blog long before me, but that’s because I’m perhaps 20 or 30 years younger than you.

        You sound angry and I’m not sure why.

        What “coincidences” are you talking about?

        Mr. Cox. You make me laugh. I really don’t know what to say anymore.

        You’ve lost a good reader. It is clear to me now that you simply hide behind the virtual, that you’ll shout from the rooftops and accuse others of being cowards, as long as it’s online, and not in person or in real life, where real change matters. You did not speak at the Board of Ed meeting, but I guess, silently seethed and judged everyone. That’s so sad! However, maybe you have no other hobbies besides bitterly complaining in a medium where you don’t have to back up your words with deeds or actions. Everyone knows you didn’t speak at the meeting, but instead chose to misrepresent it and rail with negativity on your snarky blog.

        You should rename this blog “New Rochelle’s Talk of the Sound and the Fury!” or “Get Off My Lawn!” with perhaps three exclamation points to serve as a visual disclaimer for any potential, rational readers.

        Part of me feels sorry for you; the other half could/couldn’t care less. What can I say. I’m delighted to see my 12th Grade English teacher, Mrs. Weissberg, attempting to communicate with me here. That’s heart-warming cause she’s a class act, like many of the school board members I’ve come to know since the start of this incident.

        I hope one day you’ll join us in a consensual and objective view of reality, Mr. Cox, because I’m not sure what planet you’re living on, besides that of your vast imagination.

      4. If I may resort to a bit of
        If I may resort to a bit of snarky internet-speak… looks to me like Mr. Cox just got “pwned” by a reader and was done in by his own defensiveness.

  3. Interesting
    Interesting that Mr.Cox rails against the very school district that pays his wife an ample salary and likely pays for his health insurance. Perhaps the district could save money to buy new books by letting her go.

    1. Retaliation!
      That’s the spirit. If someone has the temerity to say the emperor has no clothes then retaliate!!!!

  4. May I have I link to this
    May I have I link to this suspension issue? I would much like to read a more direct source.

      1. I would rather you inform
        I would rather you inform me. You’ve written a bibliography before, I’m certain. Citing sources is a vital part of being a journalist: If your sources can’t be verified, your argument is as strong as a wet noodle.

      2. this is not a term paper…
        …and I do not disclose sources.

        But keep using the “Shoot the Messenger” approach. It’s been working great for the district so far 🙂

      3. “Shoot The Messenger”
        You mean you’re getting your information from a private source? Please reveal who this source is, if there is one? I think the voters have a right to know who might be working against them in their own city. I would hope the source of the information understands there are legal stipulations involved if he is divulging information which is private. He may face legal action and removal from his position, if he/she has one.

      4. How do you figure disclosing
        How do you figure disclosing the motivation for censoring the book is “working against” voters? Last time I checked, voters have a right to know who and what is behind a challenge to a book, especially when the challenge results in a decision to ban, censor, redact or restrict the book. Seems to me, the only people “working against” voters are those who censor books in response to pressure from outside groups or individuals while failing to file district policy on book challenges.

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