Principal in Texas pulls paper with article on student drug use

TEXAS — The principal of McNeil High School in Austin pulledthis month’s issue of the student newspaper because of an article aboutdrug use on campus.

An article in the November edition of the Trail Blazer said thatstudents dealt and used drugs on and around campus and that an administrator hadturned a blind eye to drug deals. The article, titled “Drug use common atMcNeil,” was largely based on interviews with two unidentified studentswho claimed to be drug dealers.

In an e-mail that was sent to parents and faculty, Principal Cindy Dotysaid she recalled the issue because the article contained inaccuracies andbecause it took information from two school counselors out of context.

“I found that the content and sources could not be validated, thatinformation from school counselors were misrepresented, and that it was not evenknown if the student sources even existed as the names used were aliases,”she said in the e-mail.

JoyLynn Occhiuzzi, a spokeswoman for Round Rock Independent SchoolDistrict, said the student reporter, when questioned, would not reveal hersources and could not back up some of her factual claims.

“Her response was that it was based on perception and commonknowledge,” she said.

Theresa Proctor, the newspaper adviser, said she reviewed the article andrecommended some changes but thought it was “overall an okayarticle.”

Proctor believed students had the final editorial authority over the paper.In her eight years as adviser, only one article has been submitted to theprincipal for prior review, and the principal has never intervened, Proctorsaid.

“I can strongly suggest something, but it’s up to thestudents,” she said.

The Trail Blazer‘s masthead, which Proctor said has notchanged since the newspaper’s founding 16 years ago, asserts that “although under the guidance of a professional faculty member, the contentof the newspaper is wholly decided and created by staff members.”

The masthead and the administration’s continued practice of notreviewing the newspaper before publication suggests that the newspaper has beenoperating as a limited public forum, according to SPLC Legal Consultant MikeHiestand.

Typically, newspapers that are limited public forums are more protectedfrom censorship by administrators than other school-sponsored papers.

Still, Occhiuzzi said a district policy that makes the principalresponsible for all publications on campus trumps the forum statement.

“The principal has the authority to pull the paper, to suspend thepaper,” she said.

This month’s issue has been reprinted with just the article’sheadline and a note that says the article will appear in the December edition.Occhiuzzi said the article will run in December alongside a “factualresponse” from the principal.