Pubdate: Thu, 28 Feb 2008
Source: Sparta Independent, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2008 Straus Newspapers
Author: Fran Hardy
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


SPARTA -- Freedom of speech continues to be a  discussion topic three
weeks after Anthony Maitilasso,  a 16-year-old high school junior,
faced repercussions  over comments he made at a board of education

His mother, Mary Ann Maitilasso, said Sparta School Resource Officer
Keith Hanum told her on Tuesday, Feb.  12, that a complaint had been
filed against her son by  Gary Larson, teachers' union representative
for Sparta  High School. Hanum told her to bring her son to the 
police station to answer questions and sign a  statement. Maitilasso
refused and said they would hear  from her lawyer.

Sparta schools chief, Dr. Thomas Morton was at a conference out of
town when the teen was summoned by  police, and learned of the
incident when he returned on  Tuesday, Feb. 19. Hanum told Morton he
asked the  Maitilassos to come to the police station because  Larson
filed a complaint against the boy. Hanum also  told Morton that police
looked into the matter, decided  it had no merit and dropped it.

Sparta Public Information Officer, Sergeant Ron Casteel, had a
different version.. He said Larson went  to police to request they
"investigate allegations made  by the boy," and that no complaint was
filed against  him.

Board of Education Vice President Richard Sullivan said  the board
knew nothing about any action taken against Anthony.

The student spoke against the district's random drug testing program.
He said teachers should be tested as well, calling it a "double
standard" if only students are tested. He cited the example of a
teacher he said  was found with cocaine in a high school bathroom in 
2006. The teacher in question was subsequently relieved of teaching
duties, but officials said the drug incident was not proven. Sullivan
reminded Anthony that it was an "alleged" incident, and the boy said,
"Okay,  'alleged', but everyone knew about it."

In addition to this statement, Maitilasso also said he'd heard high
school journalism classes were told by teacher David Decrescenzi that
the board requested no student newspaper articles be permitted on the
subject of drug testing or on conflicts at board meetings.

According to Maitilasso, he was summoned to Acting  Principal James
Bevere's office on Thursday, Feb. 7, and questioned by Bevere and
Dean of Students Catherine Goodwin about his comments. He said
another student,  Erica Pharr, was also called to the office and they 
first discussed the censorship issue. He said, "First, we cleared
that up. They said it was okay and we could  write anything we want.
Then they got really mad about  the drug testing and teacher thing."

Bevere and Goodwin told Anthony that both the board and the teachers
union were upset with his comments. He said they wanted him to write
a retraction of the statements he'd made to the board, apologize to
them and the teachers, and then sign a statement naming other
teachers he knew who were doing drugs. He  refused, saying he never
implied he knew of other teachers, only the one he spoke of.

His mother said she was incensed. "First of all, to question my son
like that and try to coerce him to sign  a statement without a parent
present, is unbelievable,"  she said. "I want to know, who told Bevere
to do this?  He wasn't even at the meeting." She continued, "And how 
does this justify a call from the police telling us we have to go to
the station and sign something? It's just  ridiculous. They're trying
to punish my son for  speaking out. They're violating his First
Amendment  rights, and they can't do that."

Morton said he questioned Bevere, who initially denied  the boy's
account of the incident, saying he spoke to the boy only about the
censorship issue. Later, Bevere revised his statement admitting he
warned the student  about the ramifications of talking publicly about
the  teacher.

In an interview last Thursday, Bevere said he called the student to
his office to clear up the censorship issue and mentioned he'd been
told what the boy said regarding the alleged teacher and cocaine
incident. He  said, "I told him to be careful with public statements 
like that because if he had mentioned a name, he could  be subject to
a libel suit."

Bevere said he suggested Anthony write an apology to the board for
the statement about censorship and about  the alleged teacher
incident. He also said the student  alluded to knowing other teachers
who do drugs and  Bevere said, "My job is to keep the kids in this
school  safe. If someone knows anybody on my staff doing drugs,  I
want names." He said he asked Anthony to write names down, but the
student refused saying he never implied  knowing others, and wouldn't
tell him if he did.

Bevere said at no time was the student "bullied, and no disciplinary
action has been taken against him.  Maitilasso's view is the
questioning was tough, that he  was "cornered" and the attempt was to
"intimidate him."  Erica Pharr, the other student present during the 
questioning, confirmed Anthony's account of what  happened in Bevere's

Bevere was asked why Larson made this a police matter,  and he said he
was unaware Larson had contacted police.  "You'll have to talk to him
about that," he said,  "especially if that's a union matter."

Larson said he could make no comment on a student related

The Maitilassos have not heard from police since Feb.  12, but are
still outraged over these events. They said  they believe what
happened was a coordinated effort by  the teachers' union, the board,
and the high school  administration to intimidate students who are
beginning  to speak out at board meetings.

Anthony said, "I'm just the first of many to give the board and the
high school administration a head ache.  Students are starting to see
the reality of the  situation and the truth is getting out."
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