Controversial sex article leads to slight revision of high school’s prior review requirements

PENNSYLVANIA — A student newspaper is breathing a sign of relief that its publications policy was not drastically changed at a March 19 school board meeting after a controversial article on sex was published in February.

The article titled “Not Everyone Thinks ‘Friends’ Have ‘Benefits’ ” was published in the February issue of Montrose High School’s student newspaper, The Meteor Chronicle. The article’s discussion of teenage sexuality prompted parents to complain to the administration. Distribution of the newspaper’s March issue was later halted by school officials to give the school board an opportunity to review the district’s student publications policy.

Community members claimed the content was “inappropriate for inclusion in a student newspaper” and that the “school board should have the right to pull [the article] because of what’s in it,” according to Superintendent Mike Ognosky.

“They’ve always written stuff that I certainly didn’t agree with, but I agreed with the message of the article,” Ognosky said.

The newspaper, produced by high school students, is distributed to all schools in the district.

A public meeting was held to discuss the issue two weeks after the article was published, but the board made its final decision at the March 19 meeting.

“There were a number of journalism students that presented their thoughts and ideas in a very mature fashion,” Ognosky said. “The kids were very much afraid that the procedures was going to be changed significantly and that didn’t happen.”

As a result, the Chronicle is required to submit copies of the publication to all administrators in the district and seek the “non-binding opinion” of the Montrose High School principal for any questionable topics, Ognosky said. Prior to the meeting, student publications were only required to submit a copy to the superintendent and school board so they would be “aware” of topics covered, he said.

Adviser Sandra Kaub said she is “delighted” by the outcome because “we did not know at all if we were going to come out with a censored newspaper or any newspaper at all.”

“I just kind of felt like there was a bit of a crack in the trust that the board and the students and I had shared for 22 years,” Kaub said. “I really don’t think any one of them believed that they were censoring.”

She said, however, that she reminds her students that there are many other publications around the country that experience daily censorship by school officials.

“I have sung the praises of this administration and school board for years,” Kaub said. “They’re so adamant about not being perceived as censors.”

Because students run the newspaper, Kaub said people in the community do not consider it a “quality” publication, despite its award-winning status. Kaub said the students work hard to maintain a professional image.

“Do we have more to learn? You bet your life,” Kaub said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t strive for it. We treat our paper as journalism, not student journalism. People kind of smirk at us, but I hold my students to the same standard as any reputable paper in the country.”

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer