NORTH CAROLINA – The editor of a student newspaper in\nRaleigh lost his fight to publish advertisements from a gay and\nlesbian support group and a church-sponsored youth group in April\nafter the Wake County Board of Education upheld his principal’s\ndecision to censor the ads.
Matt Williams, a senior at Enloe High School and editor of\nthe Eagle’s Eye, said he fought the principal’s decision\nbecause other schools in the area allowed churches to advertise\nin their newspapers.
“The decision to fight came because I saw inconsistencies\nin what the school board said could be allowed and couldn’t be\nallowed,” Williams said.
He added that his principal, Lloyd Gardner, had previously\nallowed the school newspaper to publish the ad from the church-sponsored\nyouth group.
Williams said it was not until he wanted to run the ad from\nthe N.C. Lambda Youth Network, a Durham-based organization that\noffers support services to gay and lesbian students, that Gardner\ndecided to censor both the Lambda ad and the church ad.
“I’m absolutely sure that we would still be publishing\nthe church group ad if we hadn’t brought the Lambda ad to our\nprincipal’s attention,” Williams said.
The school board supported Gardner’s decision to censor both\nof the ads, but not before creating a controversy of its own.
The board announced it would hold the hearing on Gardner’s\ndecision in a closed session. Williams, who was scheduled to appear\nbefore the board, wrote a letter to the chairman of the school\nboard objecting to the closure. He also contacted the North Carolina\nPress Association, which threatened to seek a temporary restraining\norder against the board if the meeting were held in a closed session.
The board finally decided to hold the hearing in the open on\nthe morning of the day Williams was scheduled to appear.
Board member Judy Hoffman said it is customary for the board’s\nmeetings to be closed when they involve a student. She said the\nboard agreed to open the meeting in response to Williams’ request.
Williams said he wanted the meeting to be open to make other\npeople aware of what the board was doing, but he said he did not\nthink the last-minute decision to open the hearing hurt his appeal.
“I think that no matter what preparation we would have\nhad, the school board would have made the same decision,”\nWilliams said.
“Strictly speaking, the school board followed the policy\nthat they wrote,” Williams said. “The school board gave\nMr. Gardner the power to make any decisions that he deemed necessary.”
The policy Williams is referring to, and Gardner cited as his\nreason for censoring the ads, permits school administrators to\nhalt the distribution of a publication that “associates the\nschool with any position other than neutrality on matters of political\ncontroversy.”
Kay Phillips, director of the North Carolina Scholastic Media\nAssociation, agreed with Williams’ assessment of the board’s decision.
“The principal only upheld this policy, and until we work\nto get the policy changed, the principal just has too much power,”\nshe said.
But board members J.C. O’Neal and Hoffman said they did not\nhave any plans to lessen principals’ control over student publications.
“[The principal] is where the buck stops in that building,”\nHoffman said. “He should always have a say in any decisions\nthat go on in that school.”
Williams said he does not think the board will change its policy\nany time soon, either, but hopes principals will be less eager\nto censor student publications in the future.
“It’s definitely raised the issue with people, and it\nmay change a principal’s decision down the road,” he said.\n