FLORIDA — Amanda Escamilla’s column idea sprung from a rumored syphilis outbreak among her peers at Wellington High School in Palm Beach County. Instead of cautioning her peers about unsafe sex, she encouraged them to thoughtfully consider their option to abstain.
“I didn’t want to do an article just about [sexually transmitted diseases] because it’s so overdone,” she said. “I was trying to find a different way to go about it because virginity’s such a big thing. With prom coming up and Valentine’s Day, I thought it was an ample opportunity.”
Escamilla’s opinion piece, titled “Let’s Talk About Sex,” was to be distributed to her peers Feb. 16 in this month’s issue of The Wave student newspaper. She interviewed two students with opposing viewpoints about teenage sex, omitting their names. Principal Cheryl Alligood confiscated the newspapers after they returned from the printer because, she said, Escamilla’s article would prove too distracting for students preparing for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, beginning Feb. 28.
“I serve students from ultraconservative families and ultraliberal families,” Alligood told the Palm Beach Post. “I have to walk the middle of the road. I also expect we have kids in ninth grade whose maturity level isn’t ready to handle this.”
Escamilla said she gave the principal ample warning and that Alligood never discouraged her from writing about virginity. Escamilla said she asked Alligood for permission to survey her fellow students to determine how many were sexually active. When Alligood denied her permission, Escamilla proposed an abstinence column.
“She said she would like to see a copy of it before it went out,” Escamilla said. “I didn’t see any harm in it so I gave her a copy.”
Escamilla said Alligood “never got back to me, so we went to press with it.”
The principal usually does not see the newspaper before it is distributed.
Alligood met with Escamilla, the newspaper’s editor in chief Katherine Freniere and the newspaper adviser Feb. 17 to explain why the newspaper could not be distributed.
Escamilla said the school replaced her column with an advertisement and that the new issues will be distributed this week.
“If they go ahead and pass those out, we most likely will press on with legal actions,” she said. “I’m going to wait and see what the principal does.”
A Wellington High School office employee said Alligood is no longer commenting on the situation.
“We’re going to concentrate on our students,” she said. “We need to let this rest.”
Escamilla’s parents are also in talks with representatives of The Dr. Phil Show, who want to feature her on an episode about adolescent sexuality.
“[The representatives] are having a hard time finding a family to go opposite of my family to talk about how hard it is to talk about sex,” Escamilla said.
The Palm Beach Post published Escamilla’s column on Feb. 22.
The last line reads: “Make sure, when the time comes, you truly want to swipe your v-card, because this purchase is non-refundable.
Escamilla now finds herself in the midst of the national media spotlight. In addition to local newspaper coverage, Escamilla and Freniere taped simultaneous satellite interviews from Florida on Feb. 25 that aired Feb. 28 on MSNBC.
“I hope to get across that just because we’re 17 years old doesn’t mean you can censor us,” Escamilla said. “We know our rights as far as the First Amendment goes and we’re going to fight for our rights no matter what. It’s not to be taken lightly.”
–By Kate Campbell