Principal censors Tennessee high school newspaper over articles on birth control, tattoos

A high school principal seized all 1,800 copies of a student newspaper Nov. 23 over objections to a column about birth control and an article on body art.

Oak Ridge High School Principal Becky Ervin objected to a column intended to inform students who were sexually active about birth control measures available to them, said Oak Leaf Editor in Chief Brittany Thomas. Thomas said school officials were particularly upset the column quoted a local health center physician as accurately noting that teenagers do not need parental consent in Tennessee to obtain birth control information.

Ervin had no problem with an accompanying column encouraging abstinence, Thomas said, adding that Oak Ridge’s sex education program is abstinence only.

The principal also had qualms with an article featuring photos of students showing their tattoos and body piercings, Thomas said.

Superintendent Thomas Bailey declined to comment on the situation beyond a press release issued Nov. 29, in which he said that the “interests of the student population would not be served by certain content of the articles.”



Thomas said Ervin does not normally review the paper, but looked at this issue after it was placed in teachers’ mailboxes the day before its scheduled distribution. After reading the paper, Ervin had it taken from distribution points, classrooms and individual students.

For now The Oak Leaf will publish without the article on birth control and without the names of the students pictured in the tattoo feature, she said, but that does not mean members of the Oak Leaf staff are giving up the fight to publish without administrative censorship.

“I think we need the same rights as everyone else,” Thomas said. “We’ve always been responsible – this wouldn’t have been a big deal if it had been released as we intended.”

For more information: The SPLC’s complete story regarding the censorship at Oak Ridge High School, which includes links to the censored articles and the school district’s press release, is available at: