N.C. principal censors newspaper article that referred to students caught with alcohol

NORTH CAROLINA — An article about underage drinkingwas set for publication in the Feb. 28 edition of the Myers Park High SchoolHoofprint. But Hoofprint editors say they agreed to drop anyreference to students who were suspended for having alcohol on aschool-sponsored trip because their principal set an ultimatum: edit the articleor do not publish the paper.Sara Boatright said she wrote the articlehoping to highlight consequences that result from underage drinking. She saidshe included the incident involving students who were caught with alcohol tomake it more relevant to her readers. Boatright’s original articledescribed the incident but did not give the students’ names.MyersPark High School has a policy in place requiring that Principal Bill Andersonread the student publication before it is sent to press. Boatright said thatafter Anderson read her story he asked her to omit any reference to the schooltrip or the suspended students.Anderson refused to comment about hisdecision, but Boatright said, “He told us that he didn’t want toembarrass the students involved any further.”Boatright said sheinitially did not want to edit the article, but she said that Anderson told herto change her story or the entire issue would not be printed. Andersonexplained his decision in an e-mail to the local newspaper the CharlotteRhinoceros Times. “One of the responsibilities of a highschool principal is to edit the content of a school-sponsored newspaper toinsure that all writings are appropriate for students at different developmentallevels.”Under the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision inHazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, a school official can hold articles in a studentnewspaper if he or she can demonstrate “a reasonable educationaljustification” and the censorship is not performed simply to silence anunpopular opinion.Boatright also said requiring her to edit this articlewas not consistent with Anderson’s past decisions. She said theHoofprint ran a story in November 2002 about a fight in the schoolparking lot that many alleged was gang-related. They also ran a story on arsonsuspects. A school district representative was unavailable to comment,and Hoofprint adviser Jim Scott referred all inquiries to Boatright.Boatright said that she is planning to run an editorial about the censorshipin the March issue of the Hoofprint.Boatright said she hopes thestaff will not let what happened with her story discourage them from reportingany story they feel is compelling for their audience. “I thinkthat’s the most dangerous thing about any kind of censorship,” shesaid. “When people see that this kind of thing can happen, they begin toself-censor.”