Newspaper adviser resigns following student editorial advocating marijuana legalization

TEXAS — The newspaper adviser at Big Spring High Schoolresigned May 28 after the principal pulled the last issue of the paper, whichincluded an editorial advocating the legalization of marijuana.

Bill Riggs told Midland, Texas, television station KWES that he resigned as theadviser for The Corral because of a difference of opinion withadministrators and that he did not want the journalism program to suffer.

Steven Saldivar, superintendent of the Big Spring Independent SchoolDistrict, said the editorial conflicted with the district’s policy ofdiscouraging illegal drug use.

“We talk to our kids all the time about the dangers of drugs and wefelt that it was contrary to the positive message of staying away fromdrugs,” Saldivar said.

Principal Mike Ritchey said he usually reviews the newspaper before it isprinted but he did not get a chance to do that for this issue. Whenadministrators saw the editorial, they decided to remove all copies of thenewspaper from the classrooms.

“We certainly try to stay within the framework of the expectations ofthe community that we live in,” Ritchey said. “Court cases supportschool censorship of articles. And we feel like that’s necessary for us tocensor editorials in the best interest of our program and the best interest ofour school and community.”

Ritchey said schools have to censor students to stay within state laws andtheir student codes of conduct.

“So I feel like censorship is very important,” he said.”There’s a very fine line between censorship and taking away thecreativity of students to write.”

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, saidthat courts have ruled that the First Amendment protects political speech evenin schools.

“A political opinion urging a change in the law is absolutely thehighest and most protected First Amendment speech,” he said.

LoMonte pointed to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Morse v.Frederick that specifically said that encouraging the legalization of drugswas protected free speech for students.

“Someone at the school district needs to reread theConstitution,” he said.

The Corral editor-in-chief Marisa Nieto told KWES that she was surprised bythe administration’s reaction to the editorial.

“I just couldn’t believe that someone was making a big deal out ofsuch a little — to me, in my eyes — a very little thing,” shesaid.

Nieto said she was concerned about the future of The Corral now thatRiggs has resigned, but Ritchey said there will “absolutely” be anewspaper next year.

“I think we consider that a very important program for ourschool,” he said.

Riggs could not be reached by press time.