OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — A principal's decision to recall all 1,800 copies of the student newspaper at Oak Ridge High School has stirred a First Amendment debate at the school.
Principal Becky Ervin cited a story about birth control and another about students with tattoos and body piercings as the reason for the recall.
Schools Superintendent Tom Bailey said Ervin had the responsibility to set standards for her school.
"We have a responsibility to the public to do the right thing," he said. "We've got 14-year-olds that read the newspaper."
Teacher Wanda Grooms, who has been newspaper adviser since 1988, says the seizure of newspapers is unprecedented and suppresses student expression.
"As I've always understood my job, we believe the student newspaper is a public forum for student First Amendment free speech," she said.
Grooms said administrators must decide if students can "think and discuss issues in a way that is responsible, or whether we want to say only adults can discuss those issues."
Bailey said the paper contained a photo of an unnamed student's tattoo and that the student had not told her parents about the tattoo.
"I have a problem with the idea of putting something in the paper that makes us a part of hiding something from the parents," he said.
Bailey also said the story about birth control should be edited to be acceptable for all students. The edition can be reprinted after changes are made, he said.
"I'm not completely OK with reprinting the paper," student editor Brittany Thomas said.
Thomas said she and other students planned to wear T-shirts to school today with their opinions about the action written on them.
Both Grooms and Thomas said they were upset with how the newspapers were recalled on Nov. 22. Administrators went into teachers' classrooms, desks and mailboxes to retrieve copies of the newspaper.
First Amendment experts were critical of the seizure.
"This is a terrible lesson in civics," University of Tennessee journalism professor Dwight Teeter said on Nov. 25. "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."
"I think somebody has overreached, and they're ignoring basic freedoms," said Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
Grooms said she told her newspaper staff to expect the stories to be controversial and to generate letters to the editor.
"I didn't anticipate this type of reaction," she said. "I was shocked."