High school students permitted to distribute previously censored newspaper

MISSOURI — Boonville High School’s superintendentreversed his decision to stop delivery of the first issue of the studentnewspaper to the student body, but still refused to allow its distribution tothe rest of its regular community audience members because of controversiallanguage and topics.

Pirate Press Editor-in-Chief Emily Voss said she walked through theschool confiscating copies of the issue that had been distributed to studentsOct. 2, as mandated by Boonville High School Principal Jay Webster, who acted onorders from Superintendent Mark Ficken. A few hours later in the same day, Vossre-distributed the papers to students after Ficken reversed his decision. However, Ficken still refused to allow the paper to be distributed as an insertwith the Boonville Daily News, as it is every month.

Voss said Ficken withheld the issue because of a few articles he foundcontroversial, particularly a features article titled “Far FromStraight” that described students’ responses to tolerance toward gaypeople.

“A student quote dealt with young people that live an alternativelifestyle … and the student’s quote said that homosexuals werefreaks,” Ficken said. “That could be really disruptive to theeducational process.”

Voss said she and other editors specifically chose to highlight thefeelings of Boonville High School student Kylie Melkersmen whose brotherrecently came out to his family. Voss said they chose Melkersmen because herbrother is no longer a high school student and the staff wanted to avoid puttingcurrent Boonville students under the spotlight.

Voss said she and her staff tried to make sure the article was wellbalanced, with opinions from multiple people.

“We try not to interview people on staff,” Voss said,”and there aren’t many people in our school who are out, so we hadto take a different approach. [Melkersmen’s brother] had just recentlycome out, so we wanted to interview [his sister] about how the family ishandling it.”

Ficken said that front-page articles that covered school buses andcafeteria lunches also motivated his decision to withhold the paper. He said hedidn’t like the use of the word “sucks” in describing schoollunches because it belittled hard-working cafeteria employees. He felt the otherarticle included misleading language that inaccurately raised questions abouttransportation safety.

“It spoke of buses being overcrowded, which would present a safetyhazard on behalf of the district,” Ficken said. “It could have beenmore accurate in saying that the buses seemed to be more crowded … butovercrowded implies that they are not safe.”

Voss said the issue was approved be her adviser, Stephanie Carey, and sentto the printer Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, Carey suggested that Vossgive a copy to the principal, so he could preview the content. The principalalso approved the issue, according to Voss.

Though Ficken reversed his decision to withhold copies from students, hewas still uncomfortable with surrounding community members reading the articles,said Voss.