INDIANA — Thesuperintendent of Noblesville Schools banned an article last week about therisks of oral sex, going against a committee’s recommendation and aprincipal’s decision that the article was appropriate.
Thestaff of the Mill Stream, NoblesvilleHigh School’s student paper, had been working for months on an articledealing with students’ attitudes toward oral sex, which included surveyingstudents about how intimate they consider oral sex to be.
Accordingto a student editor, a parent wrote a letter to the principal complaining aboutthe mature content of the surveys. Hours before the newspaper’s Feb. 1deadline, the principal announced the article could not run until a committee ofadministrators, students and community members approved itscontent.
A committee met Feb. 16 and approved the content of thearticle. But Noblesville Schools Superintendent Lynn Lehman, who was not part ofthe committee, decided last week the story was inappropriate for high schoolstudents.
According to Mill Streamfaculty adviser Teresa White, Lehman told her the article could not runafter the paper had already been sent to the printer Wednesday evening. Whiteinformed her staff, which had to pull the story and a corresponding editorialand cartoon and scramble to fill the blank space.
Noblesville HighSchool Principal Annetta Petty used an existing policy to refer the article to acommittee made up of herself, White, two students and two community members.That policy calls for the committee to make a recommendation to the principal,who will then make a determination about the material in question. Petty saidshe determined the article should run based on the committee’srecommendation. Nowhere in the policy does it state the superintendent can vetothe principal’s decision, according to the policy reprinted in a story inThe Noblesville Times, a localpaper.
White said student editor Jill Gingery was upset aboutLehman’s decision and did not understand why the superintendent would banthe article after the committee and the principal approved it. White saidGingery sent the superintendent an e-mail Wednesday night saying, “In alldue respect, it looks like you’re violating the [school]policy.”
When Petty first said the article would need to gobefore a committee, White and Mill Streamstaff members said they had faith that by having more people read thearticle, support for the article would be increased and students would betrusted to write about controversial topics in the future.
“Idoubt they will say no once they see the manner in which the article ispresented,” Kristine May, the student who wrote the article, told theStudent Press Law Center before the committee reviewed her story.
Since the inception of the article, its focus has shifted. Theoriginal focus was about students’ attitudes toward oral sex, includinghow many students participate in the act. According to an article inThe Indianapolis Star, Lehman describedthose statistics as “chilling.”
However, the current formof the article, according Millstreameditors and Petty, was more focused on the medical and psychological risks ofengaging in oral sex.
But even the more risk-orientated theme was tootaboo for students, Lehman decided.
“He didn’t questionif it was a topic that would be of interest, but he does not believe it’san appropriate topic,” said Petty, who said she supports Lehman’sdecision.
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.
Lehman,student editors and White will meet Thursday to discuss Lehman’sdecision, school officialssaid.
Noblesville Schools Public Relations Director, Sharon Trislersaid Lehmen would not comment on his reasons for banning the article until afterhe meets with Mill Stream staff onThursday.
“Until he talks to them I know that’s somethinghe’s not going to address to anyone else,” Trislersaid.
—by Emily Walker, SPLC staff writer
The policy Noblesville High School PrincipalAnnetta Petty used to refer the oral sex article to a committee, as it appearedin The NoblesvilleTimes:
“All materials to be printed or produced shall bereviewed by advisors and/or the principal or the principal’s designeeprior to any participation on the part of students. If a question still existsconcerning the inclusion of material in school publications/productions, areferral shall be made to a committee composed of the principal, relevantadvisors, two parents representing the Community Advisory Council and thepresidents of each class (for questions at the high school level). The functionof this committee is to review the issue presented in an advisory capacity only.A report by the committee shall be made to the principal, who will make adetermination regarding the suitability of the material in question. If,following the review, a question still exists regarding the principal’sdetermination, the petitioner may appeal using approved complaint proceduresfound in Policy 9130, “Matters Involving Instructional Material. SectionB.”
- Committee to decide fate of high school paper’s oral sex story News Flash, 2/9/2006