Texas school refuses to distribute student newspaper

By The Associated Press

DANBURY, Texas — School officials said they did not distribute the high school newspaper, which included articles about sex, because the content was not reviewed beforehand by the principal.

The Panther Press was scheduled to go out just before the winter holiday break. It had already been printed when the decision was made to hold it back.

The newspaper contained articles written by Danbury High students about the consequences of teenage sexual activity, sexually transmitted diseases and teenage parenting, and editorials making abortion-rights and anti-abortion arguments, said journalism teacher Kristi Piper.

"We determined that the campus principal had not reviewed the campus newspaper, so we conferred with the teacher, the campus principal and some other district administrators and made the decision not to allow the full distribution of that edition of the student newspaper," Superintendent Eric Grimmett said.

"Our district policy was not followed, which requires prior review before publication," he said.

He said district officials also objected to some of the content.

Piper said she believed the material was age-appropriate.

"I do think they really did a responsible job writing about it, and so I thought they handled it really well," she said. "And it is something that's part of their lives, and I didn't want to say, 'No, your lives are inappropriate.'"

School administrators met with journalism students last week to explain why they kept the newspaper out of students' hands.

District officials may censor most school-sponsored student publications if they have a reasonable educational purpose for their actions, according to the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. The Court explained: “A school must be able to set high standards for the student speech that is disseminated under its auspices — standards that may be higher than those demanded by some newspaper publishers or theatrical producers in the 'real' world — and may refuse to disseminate student speech that does not meet those standards.”

Kelly McBride, an ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, says she understands why schools might censor sensitive issues. However, she says censorship is one of the least democratic ways to handle the situation.

"My biggest problem with it is the unintended consequences," McBride said. "They're not grooming students to grow up and take responsibly their First Amendment rights that they will inherit the moment they turn 18 and leave the school system."

Danbury is about 50 miles south of Houston.