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To censor or to publish?

The administration of the Oak Ridge School System is caught in a Gordian Knot as it tries to explain it’s decision to censor and confiscate 1800 editions of the Oak Ridge High School newspaper. School System Superintendent Tom Bailey was reported as saying that an article detailing different birth control methods and a two-page feature about student tattoos and body piercings were the reason for the decision.

The story has leaped to national coverage and has created an Internet Blogging response. On local radio WNOX’s George Korda agreed with the schools decision and referenced that a school newspaper is like any newspaper and the editor has the privilege to decide what should be printed. Korda noted that the principle of the high school was the final editor of the newspaper. A Supreme Court decision backs up Korda’s contention.

The paper’s Editor-in-Chief Brittany Thomas, a senior, did not see it that way. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported, “Brittany Thomas said the American Civil Liberties Union and the Student Press Law Center are trying to secure lawyers to represent the students in a controversy that has made international news.”

Condemnation of the censorship and seizure has come from far and wide. University of Tennessee journalism professor Dwight Teeter said, “This is a terrible lesson in civics,” “This is an issue about the administration wanting to have control. Either the students are going to have a voice, or you’re going to have a PR rag for the administration.”

The decision has been made that the school newspaper will be reprinted without the article on birth control. In today’s Oak Ridger newspaper we learn, “The article about birth control will be pulled totally. The article about tattoos will have some editorial revisions made, and the paper will be reprinted in its entirety and distributed to students,” School System Superintendent Tom Bailey told The Oak Ridger by phone after a meeting with Oak Ridge High School Principal Becky Ervin Tuesday morning.

Today we also learn that the schools website has also been taken off the air. But as in all things in cyberspace the article can be read here. After reading the article it is clear that the entire reason for the censorship is a quote from Dr. Charles E. Darling with the Anderson County Health Center, “If you get a pregnancy test done and you find out that you are pregnant, you can make sure that your parents do not know. Also parental consent is not needed to obtain birth control.”

Is there anything wrong with what Dr. Darling said? Is it consistent with current law? If so, then how can this censorship be tolerated? What is wrong with the article? The students should pursue the right to publish this edition of the school newspaper. If people have a problem with the law as is stands they should move to change the law but censorship cannot be tolerated at any level. Exactly what lesson are we supposed to learn here?

Update: This will be the topic on Inside TN on WBIR Sunday morning at 9:30 AM.

7 Responses to “To censor or to publish?”

  1. Addison Says:

    “The students should pursue the right to publish this edition of the school newspaper.”

    No such right exists.

    Trust me, I was on the other side of this battle in high school, and I got my schooling but good in this. This was *the* keystone speech topic at *every* meeting of the journalist societies.

    The school is the publisher. Just as if you were to sell a story to the NY Times, and they refused to run it – that’s not censorship. The principal gets to decide what he, as the school, will allow to be published.

    The EiC Thomas – did she make any changes to any of the writers copy? Edit for space? Edit for any reason? Then she’s “Censoring” them with this line of thinking. Which of course, is nonsense.

    Is it a good idea? Very doubtful. But Thomas, and the paper, have no leg to stand on. When I has in HS (and involved in journalism) in S.C., there were 3 cases of something similar that went to lawyers, the schools won in all of them (at least, in the courtroom). At one point, we (our Advisor and myself, as EiC) considered fighting a decision of our principal, but legally, we didn’t have a case. (Our principal, for just this reason, required us to submit our “final draft” of the paper 24 hours prior to distribution).

  2. AT Says:

    Yeah, I ran a pretty controversial paper in high school too, and I got drilled into my head that students are second class citizens in regards to rights, because freedoms tend to get in the way of education. As cited by Dr. Bailey last night, the Hazelwood Supreme Court case some odd years ago pretty much drilled that down.
    So, its censorship, but not infringment on their rights. However, the administration is being a bit too puritanical in this case, and I think its to the detriment of the student body as a whole.
    Furthermore, its looking more and more like this is a power trip for the principal. The advisor/sponsor/teacher of the paper gave it the OK to be printed once corrections and edits were made, but the principal pulled it afterwards.

  3. AnalogKid Says:

    I can’t for the life of me see why schools are still running student newspapers these days.

    Nationwide newspaper readership is down, almost all the way across the board and drastically in a number of markets (there is some growth in the small town papers as these towns’ populations expand, but it is insignificant). There will be little to no growth in that industry and therefore little to no job expansion when the kids get out of school and need said jobs.

    Wouldn’t it be more helpful to the students to have them learn to publish an on-line news service along the lines of the major cable news stations’ websites?

  4. _Jon Says:

    Yet another reason why schools should be privately run.
    This whole “State” violation of rights would go away if states would setup structures for private companies to create and run the education system.

  5. Kirk Parker Says:

    AT, no it’s not a case of students being second-class anything. It’s the school’s newspaper, as everyone else here seems to realize. You don’t want the principal (in his/her role as the top official of the publisher) to have any say about your articles? Then publish your own d@mn paper!

  6. SayUncle » Oak Ridge High School Follow Up Says:

    […] On this Oak Ridge High School birth control article nonsense, R. Neal sums it up best: Setting aside the debate as to whether birth control is an appropriate topic for a high school student newspaper, it’s sad that the “abstinence only” crowd has driven these students to seek out the information on their own and share it with their classmates. Good for them. […]

  7. AT Says:

    Yes, Kirk, I meant what I said. I don’t think anybody mind (do they?) student’s second amendment rights being waived at school, but the Hazelwood Supreme Court case indicated that first amendment rights are flexible on school grounds, and then New Jersey v. T.L.O indicated that 4th amend. rights are as well. Now, I’m certainly not a lawyer, but that seems to back up what I was saying.
    Furthermore, I think you let your emotions get the better of you there, chief. I don’t recall saying it wasn’t the schools paper, and publishing my own paper would hardly be quite the same thing, would it? What I was saying is that its censorship, which Webster seems to agree with, and I’ll raise that and say my beef is that saying a 14 yr old is too young for this content is reckless and ignorant.

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