High school principal halts distribution of newspaper

TEXAS — After printing the December 2006 issue of The Panther Press, Danbury High School administrators refused to allow distribution of the issue before the holiday break because it included stories about teenage sexual activity.

Kristi Piper, journalism teacher and faculty advisor for The Panther Press, said the seven students on the paper’s staff learned of the school’s reasoning last week from an administrator.

“I was told that the material was not age appropriate and the campus principal hadn’t reviewed it prior to publication,” Piper said.

Two front-page articles about Danbury High School students with children and another article that focused on sexually transmitted diseases ignited the controversy, Piper said.

“[Teenage pregnancy is] one of the main issues that is going on not only in our community, but our world,” said Kennon McKinney, editor in chief of The Panther Press. “A lot of students are choosing to have sex earlier than back when our teachers were students, so we just knew they needed to hear about the consequences of their actions.”

Danbury administrators said school district officials objected to some of the content, believing it did not reflect the values of taxpayers, according to the Brazosport Facts, a newspaper in nearby Clute, Texas.

“That in a nutshell is what we do in publications like this or situations like this, guided by that principle and that light and helping youngsters learn about journalism and learning about that whole process of forming a newspaper,” Superintendent Eric Grimmett said in an interview with the Facts. Grimmett could not be reached for comment by the SPLC.

Katie Stephen, a junior who wrote a story about sexually transmitted diseases, said censoring the paper “was offending and rude” toward those students.

“Students do these kind of things,” she said. “Not everybody, but they do.”

Grimmett told the Facts that the newspaper was not reviewed before it was published, which caused administrators to restrict its distribution.

“Our district policy was not followed, which requires prior review before publication,” he told the Facts.

Piper said this was the first time she has experienced any prior review or censorship at the school. She said she questions the district’s reasoning in not distributing the paper after reviewing its policies.

“It said the administration is responsible for all student publications, but does not call for prior review,” she said.

McKinney said The Panther Press will write an editorial that criticizes the decision in the next issue of the paper, but doubts it will be published.

“The way our principal is, it probably won’t end up getting in there,” he said.

By Jared Taylor, SPLC staff writer