School board refuses to allow pro-abstinence ads

CALIFORNIA — Before the spring of 1997, Kim Houlihan said local high school journalists would accept her advertisements for their newspapers. Then, she was notified that the school board had banned them.”We don1t offer abortions,” said Houlihan, the director of Birthchoice, a local women’s clinic in Escondido. “We offer alternatives, like abstinence. I’m sorry they feel the need to keep us from advertising.”The policy of banning “sensitive ads” from student publications was prompted by the distribution of anti-abortion leaflets at the Escondido Union High School District’s five high schools, located a few miles north of San Diego, said Jayme Armer, assistant superintendent.”This is Escondido, Calif.,” she said. “We live in a very conservative community. Parents are very critical of our curriculum.”Armer said that any advertisement deemed sensitive, covering topics ranging from AIDS to reproduction, are subject to prior review by parents.”It’s the same situation for our health curriculum,” she said. “We send a note home early in the year to parents to see what we are teaching. Many parents show up because, again, this is a very conservative community.”But Jim Ewert, an attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said the district may be violating a state law protecting student free expression.”If it is an editorial decision to run an ad, then the administration is limited in the types of ads they can prohibit,” he said. “They are limited to preventing ads that are a threat to the school, obscene or harmful.”Ewert stressed that the district would be in violation of the California free expression law if student editors were in charge of the ads — not an administrator.”If the school district is exercising authority over an ad, there may not be a problem,” he said. “However, if the student editors accept certain types of ads as part of editorial policy, then some other things come into play.”