Education authorities allow photo


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Rhode Island’s education commissioner ordered Portsmouth High School on Friday to publish a yearbook photo it earlier rejected because it showed a teenage medieval enthusiast holding a sword.

Patrick Agin, 17, a fan of the Middle Ages, wore chain mail and slung a prop sword over his shoulder for his senior portrait. School officials claimed the picture violated a zero-tolerance policy on weapons.

Portsmouth school authorities can regulate editorial content in “The Legend”, but they acted unreasonably by rejecting Agin’s photo, hearing officer Paul Pontarelli wrote in a ruling approved by Education Commissioner Peter McWalters.

For example, school officials offered to publish Agin’s photo if it was part of a paid yearbook advertisement.

“Tolerance for weapons can be purchased,” Pontarelli wrote. “This is illogical.”

He added that past editions of the yearbook contain photos showing items banned by school rules, including a corn cob pipe, liquor bottles, a beer stein, toy guns, arrows and a knife. The school band’s banner depicts a rifle-totting patriot.

“This is a classic example of a school district really interpreting zero tolerance in really ridiculous ways,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Agin’s family.

ACLU attorneys have argued that the intent of publishing a yearbook is to allow high school seniors to express themselves in a public forum. They argue that the school has allowed students to pose for more than a decade with props that show their interests, including musical instruments and horses.

Portsmouth Schools Superintendent Susan Lusi did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday night.

AP-ES-01-19-07 1927EST