MISSOURI — After requiring the removal of an articleand editorial about tattoos from the student newspaper of Timberland HighSchool in Wentzville, Mo., Principal Winston Rogers is now insisting the staff remove allpreviously approved tattoo ads, for which they have a full-yearcontract.
Cutting the ads will cost The Wolf’s Howl a few hundreddollars, according to Editor-in-Chief Nikki McGee. She said Rogers’original reason for pulling the article and editorial was that tattoos fallunder the category of “drugs, alcohol and etc.,” and iscensorable according to Timberland High School’s student publicationspolicy. McGee said she had previously requested clarification of the”etc.” in the policy with no answers.
Under the policy, Rogers can censor materials that could cause”substantial and material disruption or obstruction of any lawful mission,process or function of the school.” But McGee said Rogers told her hewants to see articles in the paper that “pique” students’interests, which is what she thought she was doing.
“Although in the past I’ve asked for a list of things that wecan’t cover, he never gave me one,” McGee said. “He said ‘no topics were off limits because anything could be coveredprofessionally.’ “
McGee said she is frustrated by Rogers’ action after the amount oftime spent compiling the original tattoo spread, and the amount of money spenton the yearlong advertising contract.
When the initial spread was pulled by Rogers, he refused to give the staffan explanation, claiming it was “the principal’s discretion.”But when the paper’s adviser notified him that the Hazelwoodstandard requires school officials provide justification for censorship, he saidhe made the decision to cut all tattoo press because of age. Rogers did notrespond to calls by press time.
“I realized that, because of the age requirement on it, that it wasprobably inappropriate for our students,” Rogers told theSuburban Journals in St. Louis, Mo. “The majority of our studentsare not old enough to get tattoos by themselves. We don’t advertise cigarettes.We don’t advertise alcohol.”
The newspaper staff hosted a Coffee Party Protest — its version ofpolitical “tea party protests” — at a local Starbucks Oct. 23 to protestwhat is happening and to discuss taking further action. In addition to gettinglocal press attention, McGee said high school advisers statewide are showingsupport for Timberland’s fight against the censorship, and even going asfar to discuss proposing a Student Free Expression bill for Missouri, to preventthe prior review that was made lawful by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the1988 case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.
“Missouri is the home of Hazelwood, and it’s long been high onour list of priority states,” said Mike Hiestand, legal consultant for theStudent Press Law Center. “I know there have been a few formal attempts toget legislation passed. There definitely are people there that want this done,and have shown inclination to stick with it.”
Hiestand said it is unfair of school officials to take advantage ofpublication policies.
“They are just so broad that they can be used to censor almostanything,” he said.
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