When 17-year-old Grant Berardo wanted to wear a political T-shirt on school picture day in October, his parents told him it was fine.
His “TRUMP Make America Great Again!” shirt did not violate the dress code at Wall Township High School in central New Jersey because it did not reference drugs or alcohol or weapons. Instead, it simply featured the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign slogan.
“He just wanted to memorialize what was going on in the country at the time,” the teen’s father, Joseph Berardo, told The Washington Post.
But when the junior received his yearbook last week, he noticed something was missing from the photo: President Trump’s winning campaign slogan.
In his yearbook photo, a copy of which was provided to The Post, Grant appears to be wearing a plain, dark-colored T-shirt.
At least two other students at the school had similar experiences: A Trump logo was apparently edited out of junior Wyatt Dobrovich-Fago’s photo, and his sister, Montana, was missing an inspirational 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,” the quote read, according to CNN.
Wall Township public schools has not said who was responsible for the yearbook edits, but Superintendent Cheryl Dyer said the district does not condone them, noting: “We are all equally outraged.”
Dyer said in a statement that the district learned about “an allegation of censorship and the possible violation of First Amendment rights” and is now investigating the matter.
“Two parents have notified the school district of ways in which the attire of their children was altered in yearbook photos,” she said. “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.”
Dyer said it is not against school rules for students to express political views, and added that “the administration applauds students for becoming involved in politics, making their voices known, and taking an active part in our democracy.”
“The administration and staff of the Wall Township Public Schools strongly value the principles of free speech and inquiry in our schools and society, viewing them as the bedrock upon which our community and educational system is built,” Dyer added, calling the censorship allegations “disturbing.”
“Any inappropriate challenge to these principles will be rectified as swiftly and thoroughly as possible. The actions of the staff involved will be addressed as soon as the investigation is concluded.”
Janet Dobrovich-Fago, the mother of the siblings whose photos were apparently altered, told NJ.com that she is outraged by the edits.
“We’re very angry,” Dobrovich-Fago said. “When we saw that Montana’s quote dropped out, we thought it was a mistake because all the other class presidents’ quotes were still there.
“But when we saw that Wyatt’s shirt was photoshopped and we heard about Grant, I knew this was not a coincidence. This was purposeful, and it’s wrong.”
Berardo, Grant’s father, said 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.”
CNN reported that not all references to Trump were withheld – one page in the yearbook did mention the 2016 presidential election.
Voters in Wall Township overwhelmingly supported Trump in the general election, with 62 percent of the votes going to the Republican candidate. Democrat Hillary Clinton received about 34 percent.
Berardo said he wants administrators to reissue the yearbooks and include a signed letter by the person or people “who made the mistake.”
“I don’t think that’s an unreasonable ask,” he said.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Lindsey Bever