14 students suspended for producing rap CD

Thursday, February 10, 2005

JOHNSTON, R.I. — Fourteen students at Johnston High School have been suspended for producing rap music CDs that administrators say are offensive and have angered parents.

The musicians rap about violence and binge drinking, and mention some female students by name, suggesting the girls are prone to have sex.

On one of the 25 songs, students sing: “I lay in my bed staring up at the ceiling as I think to myself I don't know what I'm feeling / I just wanna grab the Glock and cock it back / kill everyone here, how … is that.”

The CD started circulating around the school this week, and about 50 were sold, according to school officials. Parents caught wind of it and alerted administrators.

Schools Superintendent Margaret Iacovelli gave each student a five-day suspension. All must also perform 10 hours of community service and receive in-school sensitivity training.

“After I heard this CD, I immediately called the administration into my office,” she said. “I never even thought of putting it under the rug. Each student is getting the same discipline as anyone else. You have to treat every child the same.”

The CD was made off school grounds, according to school officials. Other songs deal with such topics as football games and how the student rappers' cars fit their personalities.

The comments about girls at the school angered parents the most, according to some administrators. That issue prompted Iacovelli to include sensitivity training as part of the punishment.

“What I know is that the parents that contacted me are the parents of the young girls that are mentioned on the tape,” School Committee member Lorraine Natale said. “They were very concerned about the graphic nature of the tape.”

David L. Hudson Jr., First Amendment Center research attorney, said that if the students distributed the CDs on school grounds, then “school officials have a much stronger claim to jurisdiction even though the materials were created off-campus.”

Normally, student materials distributed on campus are subject to a standard created in the Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., “which asks whether school officials can reasonably forecast that the student expression will create a substantial disruption in school,” Hudson said.

“School officials can also prohibit vulgar, lewd and indecent speech” under a standard established in Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, he added.

Iacovelli said a final report of the school's investigation into the music was expected to be released on Feb. 14.

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