Feature up in smoke when principal axes sex stories

CALIFORNIA — Despite a law guaranteeing students in the\nGolden State freedom of expression in their student newspapers,\na Santa Clarita principal has found a new basis for censorship\n– the state sex education code.

Hart High School principal Gary Fuller said allowing students\nto print a “Sex: Raw and Uncensored” section in the\nstudent newspaper, The Smoke Signal, would violate the\nstate’s sex education code.

The code states, “Any written or audiovisual material\nto be used in a class in which human reproductive organs and their\nfunctions and processes are described, illustrated, or discussed\nshall be available for inspection by the parent or guardian at\nreasonable times and places prior to the holding of a course which\nincludes such classes.”

But editors of The Smoke Signal and legal experts argued\nthat a student newspaper is not course material.

“It’s preposterous,” said Terry Francke an attorney\nwith the California First Amendment Coalition. “It’s without\nlegal authority.”

“If we could just get these principals when they are taking\nthe law into their own hands and trying to shut down speech, if\nthey would only call an attorney,” he said. “Almost\nany attorney in this case could tell them the statute has nothing\nto do with student newspapers and certainly doesn’t authorize\ncensorship.”

Fuller did not return calls made by the Report requesting\ncomment.

Under California law, an administrator may censor a student\npublication only if its material is obscene, libelous or slanderous,\nwill create a substantial disruption of school activities, or\nis a violation of the law. Despite its rather provocative title,\nthe two-page spread focused on the benefits of abstinence and\nmethods of safe sex.

The staff of The Smoke Signal said it has no plans to\npursue legal action, but editors did take a stance against their\nadministration’s decision. They printed a blank, two-page spread\nwith the word “CENSORED” written across it in the newspaper,\nand they also took the articles to a local newspaper, The Signal,\nwhich printed part of the sex spread for them.

Dikla Tuchman, The Smoke Signal’s opinion section editor,\nsaid she feels the principal’s decision had more to do with her\ndistrict’s conservatism than with concern for following the sex\neducation code.

“We live in a very conservative valley,” Tuchman\nsaid. “Many of our administrators are highly conservative\npeople. In the past, everything in our newspaper has been tailored\nto the conservative ideals that our administrators have and that\nthe student body has. [The administration] wanted to save themselves\nbecause they didn’t want to have to deal with parents calling\nin because their kids were reading about sex.”

The newspaper staff did, however, get a very positive reaction\nto its protest of the principal’s censorship. Tuchman said that\nin general, the student body and faculty were “disgusted”\nwith the administration’s decision.

“English teachers all over the school put up the blank\ncenter spread in classrooms as a statement,” she said.

Tuchman also said the staff’s decision to take the spread to\nThe Signal was an extremely important one. Not only did\nthe staff put more research and work into this center spread than\nmost, she said, they felt that it was an important message for\ntheir readers.\n”We felt that if we feel [the story] is important, then\na lot of other people are going to feel it’s important,”\nTuchman said.