Middle school paper withheld for printing political ads

SOUTH CAROLINA — A school superintendent held up distribution of a middleschool newspaper, citing a district policy that prohibits printing commercial,political or religious advertisements in school newspapers.The firstissue of The Chief’s Chronicle, the new student newspaper atGaffney Middle School, contained three political advertisements purchased bycandidates in the upcoming Cherokee County school board elections. A fourth adwas purchased by a school principal wishing students “good luck,”according to Cody Sossamon, executive editor of The GaffneyLedger, the local paper that prints The Chief’sChronicle.Superintendent Bill James blocked distribution of the Oct.18 edition when he was told it contained political ads. He cited a districtpolicy that states that “schools will not display or distributeadvertising materials of a commercial, political or religious nature in theschools or on school grounds.”James also expressed a concern aboutthe school district appearing to support particular candidates over others. Fivecandidates did not place ads in the paper.Adviser Judy Olson-Robinsonsaid she was not aware of the policy when she encouraged students to sell ads todefray printing costs. “Nobody ever really said what board policywas,” said Olson-Robinson. “I’m still not exactly sure what[it] is.”Although the district advertising policy has been inplace since 1994, both district high schools have traditionally printed ads intheir student papers without any problems, according to Sossamon. Besides TheChief’s Chronicle, The Gaffney Ledger also prints the studentpapers at the two high schools in the Cherokee County district, hesaid.Pamela Hughes, the second-year adviser for The Wildcat Growlat the district’s Blacksburg High School, said that the policy has notappeared to be enforced until the recent incident at Gaffney MiddleSchool.“I’ve never been told not to run a particular ad oranything of that nature,” said Hughes.In an Oct. 23 article inThe Gaffney Ledger, School Board Chairman Greg Kirby has said thathe hopes the school board addresses the policy immediately after the Nov. 5elections.“It probably needs to be changed,” saidKirby.Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina PressAssociation, said in the same Oct. 23 Gaffney Ledger article that thestudents should have been praised for selling political ads in the studentnewspaper.“What better way to teach the political process andencourage civic involvement than to have a political ad in a studentnewspaper,” Rogers said. Rogers also noted that by running a paidad, the newspaper was not endorsing a candidate.Superintendent Jamessaid that because the policy is vague, it probably should be “reviewed andrefined.”Adviser Olson-Robinson said that the re-printed issue,without the ads, will be reviewed and probably released today by GaffneyPrincipal Herman Thompson.