TEXAS — White space. That’s what Plano Senior High Schoolstudents saw in a recent issue of their school newspaper whenthe principal censored an editorial he deemed racist and severalother items dealing with sex.
Principal Doyle Dean said that the items he removed from theFeb. 4 issue of Wildcat Tales were unprofessional and inappropriatefor some community members who read the paper.
Student editor Nick Pavlov disagreed, claiming the administrationwanted to clamp down on the students because of the topics theycovered — how to practice safe sex and information about teen-agepregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
"It’s not the topic they were writing about," Deansaid, "it was poor writing, that’s the way I would describeit, it was just not done very well." He also said that studentsdid not have time to revise the paper after his edits becausehe was not approached to see it until right before the deadline. Dean objected to information on the controversial morning-afterbirth control pill because he said there was no mention made ofits reported health risks. He removed an article promoting safesex and an accompanying chart listing sexually transmitted diseasesbecause he said it was not sufficiently researched and includedslang — "get freaky" and "dancing the horizontaltango."
An anime-style student drawing of a pregnant teen and a clipart condom were omitted because Dean said he felt they were inappropriate.He also cut a satirical editorial critiquing the Afghan Talibangovernment, saying "you cannot excuse racism by saying youare being sarcastic."
"There are publications out there that might print thingslike this, but we’re not one of them," Dean said. "Youcan always lower your standards, but we’re gonna keep [ours] ata high level."
Dean said he explained his rationale for the censorship tothe newspaper staff after the paper was published.
"Everything about the article and the editing, we havediscussed, and so they should be well aware of that," Deansaid. "Now, I don’t mean that they’re happy with that, butI think they understand where we’re coming from on it. And theyunderstand they can do an article on this. I think it is a topicthat could be very timely and could be helpful and beneficialto our students."
Pavlov said the staff did not understand the principal’sreasons and was still angered by his censorship.
He added that sub-school principal Michael Wetchensky toldthe newspaper staff they would have to "dance some politics"in order to avoid censorship and that the students should be mindfulthat they are "in the Bible belt."
Wetchensky, a former journalist and journalism teacher, agreedwith Dean’s censorship and explanations and said his commentswere aimed at explaining to the students that politics sometimesenters into journalistic ethics.
"[I told] them how essentially in a school setting yourpublisher is going to be the principal," Wetchensky said."I’ve known [Dean] since my student teaching days and thisis first time I’ve ever seen him cut things out. I think his mainsticking point was they could have just done a little bit betterjob on the story."
Pavlov and his newspaper staff appealed to Superintendent DouglasOtto to reverse Dean’s decision, but received no response. Plano’spublication policy states that lack of response within three daysis tantamount to a denial.
"I could try to rally enough public support via mediaor other students in school," Pavlov said after waiting tohear back from Douglas. "I think I’ll end up appealing tothe school board and [The Dallas Morning News], just forthe principle of the matter."
Pavlov said that after some consideration, he decided not totake legal action against the school.