Cancer ribbon tattoo delays distribution of Mo. high school paper

MISSOURI — Students were ordered to pull back copies of Timberland High School’s student newspaper The Wolf’s Howl because of an imageof a student’s ankle tattooed with a cancer-support ribbon and name of a studentwho passed away from the disease.

The students were told by Principal Winston Rogers to remove their Dec. 17issue of the Wolf’s Howl from distribution bins Thursday because of athumbnail-sized image of a tattoo that appeared as part of an article aboutstudents struggling with cancer. The tattoo belonged to a female student who hadrecovered from cancer, and depicted a ribbon and the name of a fellow studentwho had died from a brain tumor, Wolf’s Howl Editor-in-Chief Nikki McGeesaid.

“He opened [the paper] up in front of us and pointed to the tattoo and said’I need you guys to guys to pick these up,’ ” she said.

The Wolf’s Howl staff was able to pass out papers on Thursday, Dec.17 until Rogers recalled the issues in the mid-afternoon, but “there were quitea few [copies] we picked up,” she said. Because staff members were unable todiscuss the issue with Rogers until Monday, Dec. 21, the staff was also unableto mail issues of the paper to community members, as they typically do.

After meeting with Rogers and the district’s assistant superintendentMonday, the staff was permitted to resume distribution and mailing of theWolf’s Howl. McGee, however, was concerned about affect the delay inmailing the papers had on the paper’s advertisers.

“I don’t think this is acceptable to our advertisers,” McGee said. “Thatwas the last shopping weekend of the year for people to go in and shop at theirbusinesses — that’s the primary goal of several people advertising.”

Attempts to reach Rogers and school district administrators were notsuccessful by press time.

The Wolf’s Howl had operated for years as a student-directed public forumwith minimal administrative involvement until last school year, when the schooldistrict began enforcing a mandatory administrative pre-approval of contentafter the student staff accepted an anti-abortion ad from a local church.

In October 2009, Rogers required that an article and an editorial abouttattoos, as well as advertisements for tattoo parlors, be pulled from thestudent newspaper. He said that the topic was not age-appropriate forstudents.

McGee said it was made clear to her that as a topic of writing, tattoos areoff limits. She is concerned the restrictions on content are hurting the qualityof the paper and making it less accessible to its primary audience: the studentbody.

“We had kids coming up to us saying they don’t want to read our paperanymore because it’s so bland,” she said. “It used to be such a good paperbecause we tackled some tough topics — not just topics that are extremelycontroversial, but the tough topics kids talk about.”

For More Information:

  • Principal demands tattoo ads be pulled from student newspaper News Flash, 10/28/2009
  • Principal censors newspaper’s articles about tattoos News Flash, 10/15/2009