UTAH — Astudent journalist’s father is accusing his daughter’s school ofbreaking the law after the school newspaper published articles aboutsex.
Stephen Graham, who is also president of the Standard of LibertyFoundation, has asked the Utah Attorney General and State Office of Education toinvestigate whether Lone Peak High School in Highland, Utah, broke state privacyand sex education laws by allowing students to print three pieces in
The Lone Peak Crusader, according to apressrelease posted Wednesday on the organization’sWeb site. The organization bills itself as anonprofit corporation ”which exists to raise awareness of radicalmovements overrunning America’s Christian-moral-cultural life and topromote public resurgence of religion and traditional sexual morality tocounteract these trends.”
On Nov. 17, anopinionpiece advocating the formation of a Gay Straight Alliance at the school ran inthe student newspaper alongside an opposition piece written by Graham’sdaughter, Elise.
Graham refused to comment for this article. But the pressrelease alleges the student-written pieces violate two Utah educationlaws.
”The Utah FERPA law forbids schools from allowing anyactivity which results in students revealing information concerning their sexualbehavior, orientation or attitudes,” according to the press release.”Utah Education law requires that schools stress the importance ofabstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage,and also forbids advocacy of homosexuality and of sexual activity outside ofmarriage.”
In the opinion piece on HPV, student Sarah Brimhallsaid that teaching abstinence is not enough to prevent the spread of thedisease.
Samantha Tuttle, current editor ofThe Lone Peak Crusader, said in ane-mail that her adviser and the school principal have been supportive of thepaper. She said school district lawyers looked into the opinion pieces inNovember and said the paper did not do anything illegal.
”Wemay have rattled [Graham’s] cage and reported on heavier issues than hethinks is appropriate, but we are careful not to step outside the lines,” Tuttle said. ”Unfortunately, our paper has been scrutinized more sinceNovember.”
Tuttle said a picture of someone dressed as a punkon Halloween was left out of the paper because ”we were afraid StephenGraham would say that the guy wearing eyeliner as a punk is promotinghomosexuality.”
Student press advocates said Graham is confusing schoolofficials and students.
”This parent has apparently confusedthe legal limitations on what school officials can do and the legal rights ofstudent journalists to discuss issues of their choosing,” said MarkGoodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. ”No one hassuggested the students were forced to cover these topics by the school. As longas students are making the content decisions, these choices are completelyappropriate and probably legally protected.”
Lone Peak HighSchool Principal Chip Koop did not immediately return a phone call seekingcomment. But Koop told the Deseret Morning News, a community newspaper, that Alpine School District attorneys saythe school district has not broken any laws.
The studentnewspaper’s adviser, Nate Phillips, told The Daily Herald, another communitynewspaper, that he did not think the paper broke the law.
James Fisher, an assistant professor lecturer in thedepartment of communication at the University of Utah, said the school did notbreak any state laws when it allowed the student paper to publish the pieces inquestion.
”It’s tunnel vision at best, censorship byaccusation at worst,” Fisher said of Graham’s allegations.
”It’s the kind of overly blind protectionism that drives a lot ofyoung people out of journalism, and certainly out of thinking and opening theirminds.”
Fisher said Phillips has attended workshops at theuniversity on law and ethics, and is ”one of the best young advisers inthe state. He knows what he’s doing.”
In theDeseret Morning Newsarticle,Graham said he wants school district officials to admit they broke the law andsend an apology to all parents.
”The kids’ articlesshould be about sports, music, dances, academics, noise in the halls and lunchroom menus,” Graham said in the press release. ”What in the worldare school administrators thinking allowing twisted articles abouthomosexuality, genital warts and infections, rape, and promiscuity for minorsfrom age 14 to read the facts? They seem to be purposefully subvertingwholesomeness, traditional morality, and parents’rights.”
Carol Lear, director of school law and legislation atthe Utah Office of Education, told The Daily Herald that she does not plan to investigate the articles.
”I’m not going to do anything,” Lear toldthe paper. ”If the school district asks my opinion, I would give it tothem, but we just don’t have a monitoring, punishingrole.
”To say if there was an article in a school newspaperabout how many girls had been raped and to say that’s promoting sexualactivity, that’s not accurate. It’s just providing information. Itdoesn’t promote it.”
For their part, student editors at Lone Peak High Schoolsaid they will continue to publish stories relevant to theiraudience.
”We try to address issues that teens really arefacing today and if Graham is afraid of our influence, then he doesn’ttrust youth to form their own opinions and begin to find their own way in theworld,” said Tuttle, the student editor.