Conservative Central H.S. student gets lesson in intolerance

Posted: January 07, 2016

Michael Moroz was prepared for backlash.

But he wasn’t expecting death threats.

The 17-year-old, a senior at Central High School, recently wrote an opinion piece for the school’s newspaper criticizing protests by student racial-justice activists at the University of Missouri. It ran alongside a piece that applauded the demonstrations.

Moroz pulled no punches, calling Michael Brown, the black teenager killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., “a delinquent” who was “at worst, justifiably killed, and at best, a thug.” Moroz dismissed Missouri students’ demands as “nonsensical,” and blasted protesters who went on a hunger strike.

Things blew up once the story hit the Centralizer’s Facebook page shortly after Philadelphia schools let out for winter break. On social media, there were calls to “deal with” Moroz and “shoot” him, and he was decried as a racist. Fearing for his safety, Moroz did not attend school Monday.

“I definitely felt threatened,” said Moroz, a Northeast Philadelphia resident and the newspaper’s managing editor. “It’s hard not to feel threatened.”

Student editors pulled Moroz’s piece from the newspaper’s website when the online commentary began turning ominous toward Moroz and said in a Facebook message that “if an article comes across as insensitive, and the Central community would rather have it taken down … then the article will be taken down.”

Later, administrators at Central, one of the city’s top schools, backed the students’ decision.

“That,” Moroz said, “just sets a bad precedent.”

He believes his story should not have been pulled, even amid threats.

Initially, only Moroz’s piece was yanked. Later, the pro-demonstrators article was removed as well.

Timothy McKenna, Central’s president — the school’s principal also serves as its president — said Tuesday that in hindsight, both pieces should have been removed simultaneously.

He also said he did not believe Moroz’s article was censored, because with a bit of maneuvering, it still can be found on the newspaper’s website.

“And we didn’t collect copies of the newspaper that were distributed,” McKenna said. “It’s still available.”

But, McKenna said, the editors’ instincts were good, and focused on protecting Moroz’s safety. Although students were on break and McKenna was out of town dealing with a family emergency when the editors alerted him to the threats, McKenna notified authorities.

When classes resumed Monday, extra security was in place, and he and others met with Moroz and his mother.

“We truly took the threats seriously,” McKenna said.

Three students who issued specific threats have been disciplined in accordance with the Philadelphia School District’s code of conduct, McKenna said.

On Tuesday, Moroz was back at Central.

He was philosophical about his physical well-being.

“It’s kind of impossible to ensure security in this school, or any other school in the city,” Moroz said.

Housed in a sprawling building in Logan, Central has dozens of doors, all of which open from the inside; it’s easy for students to leave undetected or allow someone from the outside in.

But the larger issue, said Moroz, a strong student headed to the University of Pennsylvania to study international business in the fall, is a lack of tolerance for differing viewpoints at Central. It’s one of the city’s largest schools, with more than 2,000 students. Racially and economically, it’s a melting pot, but there is little accommodation, he said, for someone with conservative views.

“It’s not diverse in terms of the ideas supported by the faculty or student body,” Moroz said.

In the past, multiple teachers railed against former Gov. Tom Corbett in class, Moroz said, and on a day when the Republican governor was supposed to visit Central — an appearance he ultimately canceled — some teachers encouraged students to leave class to make signs protesting the governor.

“You’re in class and you’re hearing the same opinion over and over again — the unions are great, Republicans are evil,” Moroz said.

He did receive some messages of support for his viewpoint, Moroz said, but all were sent privately — a symbol, he said, of how tough it is to express an opinion other than that held by the majority.

McKenna disagrees.

“We’re not about censorship,” he said. “We want to develop kids with differing opinions.”

Senior Cameron Gaillard said the issue wasn’t Moroz’s perspective.

“He can have a different viewpoint,” said Gaillard, 17. “But he didn’t have to be crass and disrespectful in the way he expressed it. That was unacceptable.”

Gaillard said he was one of the students disciplined — suspended for a day — for an online comment that Moroz should be dealt with.

“I wanted him to be reprimanded,” Gaillard said. “I don’t understand how one person can offend a mass majority of people and have people call him a hero for his biased opinion.”

Ana Deluca-Mayne, another Central senior, said she wished the story had not been published — not because of its view but because of its “extremely inflammatory language” and its seeming dismissal of the Black Lives Matter movement. She said she was disappointed it wasn’t used to spur a larger conversation.

“A lot of the people who were upset with the article were upset that it was taken down,” Deluca-Mayne said. “We want to have discussions about race, about differing opinions about movements like Black Lives Matter.”

She and others said any threat to Moroz was unacceptable.

Central is by and large a fairly liberal place, said classmate Thomas Davidenko. “But dialogue is permitted,” he said. “Moroz is overreacting.”

“Disgust” was how Central senior Tiffany Coles described her reaction to the story.

Moroz “has the right to feel the way he feels,” she said. “The problem was the word choice and the undertones.”

But she also takes issue with the administration’s response.

“So many students were upset, and hurt, and felt personally attacked by this article,” Coles said. “That should have been addressed. That shouldn’t have been swept under the rug.”

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