INDIANA — Thestaff and adviser of a student newspaper in Noblesville are hoping thatcontroversy over an article on oral sex will mean fewer restrictions on whatthey can print in the future.
The staff of theMill Stream, Noblesville HighSchool’s student paper, had been working for months on an article aboutstudents’ attitudes toward oral sex, which included surveying studentsabout how intimate they consider oral sex to be. According to a student editor,a parent wrote a letter to the principal complaining about the mature content ofthe surveys. Hours before the newspaper’s Feb. 1 deadline, the principalannounced the article could not run until a committee approved itscontent.
This incident is just one more in a string of similarsituations where articles about oral sex have prompted high schooladministrators to tighten or introduce prior review policies, giving them thepower to read articles before they are published.
In a town 70 milessouth of Noblesville, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation Boardrecently voted against granting administrators prior review after a studentnewspaper in Columbus, Ind., wrote an article on oral sex.
InNoblesville, administrators already have the power to read articles prior topublication in the student newspaper, but this is the first time PrincipalAnnetta Petty has done so. She said she has no plans to review futureissues.
Petty said the sensitive subject matter and negative feedbackafter the oral sex survey fed into her decision not to allow the article to rununtil reviewed, and that she did not want the students to receive negativebacklash if the article were to run without a committee’s approval.
”My biggest fear was that students would be unfairlycategorized and blamed,” Petty said. ”This is a way of validatingtheir work as being well-done and suitable.”
TheMill Stream faculty adviser, TheresaWhite, said she could understand Petty’s decision to exercise prior reviewover the oral sex article.
”I understand why she’s doingthis. She sees this as a way to get more stakeholders in this,” Whitesaid. ”I don’t want to look like I’m soft on the FirstAmendment, because I’m not, but I trust [Petty]. She’s beenstraight-forward with her concerns and cautions.”
White saidshe thinks by getting more people involved in reading the article, it willbecome clear that the topic is appropriate and important, and support for thearticle will be increased. White said she hopes the outcome will prove that thestudents are doing good journalism and do not need administrative approvalbefore each issue.
The article, which has already been changed fromits original, broader theme to focus more heavily on the risks associated withoral sex, will go before a committee comprised of White, Petty, student leadersand two parents.
Kristin May, the student who wrote the article, isconfident the committee will decide the merits of running the article outweighthe risk of shocking some community members.
”I doubt they willsay no once they see the manner in which the article is presented,” Maysaid.
Student editor Jill Gingery said in the past week she haslearned an upsetting lesson in journalism: ”It’s been a lesson thatstudent journalists are not perceived by the community as being a professionalnewspaper.”
But Petty said a student newspaper is not aprofessional newspaper.
”I think that the school newspaper is atraining tool for our student journalists,” Petty said. This incident”sends [Mill Stream staff] themessage that there are procedures that are in place that must be followed.Whatever they do after they leave us, the same thing will betrue.”
While editors and adviser understand why Petty demandedthis particular article to be reviewed, they do not want it to become atrend.
If prior review became the norm at Noblesville, White said shewould ”have a fit.”
”I would not be reacting thesame way,” White said. ”This [prior review] should be an example ofwhy it isn’tnecessary.”
–by Emily Walker, SPLC staff writer