Paper in La. ordered to alter teen pregnancy story by removing names

LOUISIANA — A high school principal forced studentsto remove the names of teen mothers from an article in the schoolnewspaper, even after they consented to have their names used.

Before a February issue of the Fontainebleau High School Gazettewent to press, journalism adviser Christa Allan turned over acopy for principal Randy Morgan to review, as has been the schoolpolicy since the paper was established in 1995.

Fearing repercussions from parents and community members forincluding the names of teen mothers in a front-page article, Morganconsulted the St. Tammany Parish school board before allowingthe issue to run, managing editor Amanda Johnson said.

"He photocopied what he considered to be the questionablestories and faxed them to the school board office," Johnsonsaid. "The next day, the school board attorney called andsaid the article was too upbeat, that we need to make it morenegative."

Johnson said the Gazette staff then suggested runninga modified version of the story, but the boardrefused. Following this, the students wanted to cut the entirestory and run a disclaimer saying the school board censored thearticle but were not allowed, nor were they allowed to black outthe mothers’ names and run a disclaimer above the story.

"Instead we had to put, ‘The names have been changed toprotect the privacy of individuals,’ which was not the truth,because they allowed me to use their names and one was not evena minor," Johnson said.

The Gazette staff sent the paper with the changed namesto the printers, but received a call from the school board thenext day saying that another story was found objectionable andnames had to be removed. Johnson said her staff called the printersand had them black out the names in that story as well.

"The school board objected to the use of minor names andidentities, so we had to remove any reference including names,ages, grades and [expected birth dates]," Johnson said.

Allan said that before completing the story, the Gazettestaff had the two teen mothers who where minors sign a consentform to allow their names to be used.

Morgan did not return phone calls placed to his office.

Harry Pastuszek, the school board attorney, said that he didnot believe the Gazette staff’s claims about censorship,or that they had gotten written consent of the minors.

"That’s the trouble with kids," Pastuszek said.

The St. Tammany Parish school board, which oversees Fontainebleau,came under scrutiny in the past for clamping down on freedom ofexpression.

In May 2000, the Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union suedthe school board in district court, fighting a policy that forbadethe public criticism of school staff and led to the gagging ofparent Dana Thompson at a board meeting. The ACLU and the schoolboard are still working on a settlement in that case.