Commentary provokes principal to pull papers

OREGON — The Elkton community was not partying like it was 1999when the millennium edition of the Elkton High School student newspaper,TheElk Call, hit the school’s newsstands in December.

A sarcastic commentary published in reply to a letter from a communitymember about the poor grades of Elkton students prompted the school boardto halt the distribution of 500 newspapers and order them destroyed.

The commentary was written by newspaper staff member Andy Baird in replyto a letter to the editor from an Elkton community member bemoaning academicproblems at the school. The letter was written in response to news thathalf of the 80-student high school received D’s and F’s, according to EllenStark, former editor of The Elk Call.

In his piece, Baird said, “Oh Lord, we are asking you now today thatyou open up these suffering imbecile’s eyes and reach into their very soulto instill in them all of the arrogance, superciliousness and self-importancethat you, Lord, have bestowed unto us.”

“His editorial was pretty sarcastic,” said Stark, “It basically putdown the Elkton community.”

Baird, whose father chairs the Elkton school board, could not be reachedfor comment.

Charles Sharps, principal of Elkton High School and superintendent ofthe Elkton school district, justified the confiscation of the papers, sayingthe millennium issue was not up to the standards of the school and waspoorly written.

He also said it was full of “gonzo journalism,” which he defined asjournalism written with the intent to upset people.

“We have a right not to send out the papers to the community if it ispoorly written,” Sharps said, adding that he also has the right to decidethe editorial content of the paper.

The newspapers had already been distributed to students in the schoolbefore Sharps decided to remove them. The 500 confiscated copies were slatedfor people in the town.

“I read them and looked at them, and the more I thought about it, theless I thought that they should be going out to our constituents,” Sharpssaid.

Stark, who resigned from her position as editor shortly after the incidentoccurred, said a woman who worked in the school district saw the newspaperswhile they were in the school and wanted to pull her ad because she didnot want it associated with The Elk Call after reading the controversialarticle.

Stark said she brought the advertising problem to Sharps, who said hewould bring the issue to the school board. The board decided not to distributethe newspapers to the tightly knit community.

Stark said that after the incident, Sharps spoke to her journalism class.

“He was yelling at us that it was our fault,” she said.

She said Sharps wanted changes made to The Elk Call and told staffmembers that the newspaper would only publish news concerning Elkton schoolsin the future.

Stark, who was editor of The Elk Call for two and half years,has dropped out of the journalism class and resigned from the newspaper.

“I didn’t want to work under that kind of idea,” she said. “[It means]we can’t really have free speech in high school.”