Ore. adviser removed after publication of 'student secrets' feature

OREGON — The adviser of Forest Grove High School’sstudent newspaper Viking Log was removed from her position following acomplaint about a student comment published in the paper.

Joan Cluff, who has advised the Viking Log for five years, wasreassigned after the school received a complaint about the paper’s May 7issue, which included a page listing anonymous secrets submitted by students.

One anonymous note was from a student who said he was “secretly gayfor” a specifically named student, Cluff said.

Principal John O’Neill told The Oregonian

that the named student “was highly distraught over what waspublished.”

But Cluff said she and the staff did not see the statement asharmful.

“We also had students say, ‘I was in love with thisperson,’ ” she said.

Viking Log Assistant Editor RosieSteinbach said the staffand Cluff had looked through the secrets and no one considered that the one inquestion might be hurtful.

“Everyone involved feels really, really badly that someone was hurtby something that we published,” Steinbach said.

But Steinbach said it would have been wrong for the staff to exclude itfrom the feature even if they thought it might be offensive.

“Regardless of sexual orientation or race or gender or religion, astudent has the same rights to submit their thoughts as any otherstudent,” she said.

Cluff said that another teacher took over as Viking Log adviser forthe rest of the year, while she was given an English class.

O’Neill told The Oregonian that he will make a decision aboutthe future of the newspaper over the summer vacation.

“I really like the opportunity a student newspaper provides,”O’Neill said. “[But] I need to somehow make sure that students aren’t hurtin the process, and I need to be mindful of our restrictions regardingcensorship because I don’t want to cross that line.”

This was not the first problem O’Neill has had with the Viking Logthis year, Cluff said. Prior to the publication of this issue, O’Neillhad expressed concern over materials in the previous two newspapers, including asex issue and another that included an opinion piece about drug use.

Cluff said that is why she and students edited the May issue so thoroughlybefore it went to print.

But she said that after its publication, O’Neill called her into hisoffice to tell her the father of the student wanted the issue removed from theclassrooms.

Cluff said that after she talked to the Viking Log staff, thestudents decided to pull the newspaper from the classrooms to give them time toconsider their options. She said it was the end of the school day, and the staffwas not too familiar with the Oregon Free Expression Law.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said thelaw is clear that school officials cannot dictate content of a studentnewspaper, unless the content is illegal or imminently going to incite adisturbance.

“One students’ humorous comment about another student fallswell short of what could justify censorship under Oregon law,” LoMontesaid. “It doesn’t matter what form the censorship takes, any actionby the school that’s intended to punish or deter lawful expression is aviolation of state law.”

Steinbach said the Viking Log only has the senior issue left thisschool year, and it includes submitted senior biographies instead ofstories.

She said the staff is concerned about the future of the newspaper, butwhile they will edit the biographies for profanity, they will not editopinions.

“With 500 students submitting biographies, we can’t ensure thatthere’s not going to be some sort of controversy,” Steinbachsaid.

O’Neill did not return numerous phone calls by press time.