LILBURN, Ga. — Berkmar High School students opened the school newspaper to a blank editorial page after the school's principal ordered the staff to yank two opinion pieces about a new club for straight and gay teens.
Gwinnett County school officials said Principal Kendall Johnson told the staff to remove the editorials because he felt it would disturb students during exam time.
"Mr. Johnson was not going to allow there to be distractions from what they are about teaching and learning," Gwinnett Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. "The point-counterpoint was inflammatory in nature and could be disruptive."
The columns were slated for the December issue of the newspaper, the Liberty. The editorials debated whether a student club — the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Society — should meet on school grounds.
Liberty editor L'Anita Weiler, 18, said, "I had a feeling it was going to be censored."
Weiler and student copy editor Kelly Shaul, 17, distributed copies of the editorials to Berkmar students after the paper was published. The pair provided copies of the editorials to the news media on Jan. 14.
"We wanted to run a censored stamp on the page. But Mr. Johnson censored our 'censored' stamp, which is pointless," Shaul said.
The newspaper also wrote a news article about the formation of the club, which was edited by school administrators, Weiler said.
In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that principals were allowed to censor school publications, but First Amendment advocates argue that students should be able to exercise free speech.
"The point is their prediction of disruption has to be based on reasonable facts," said Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va.
"What the censorship can't be based on is the inclination to silence a particular viewpoint they disagree with or think would be unpopular."