UPDATE: The Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit Christian legal organization, now says it is representing the student who wrote the column. The group is demanding the school district apologize for its treatment of student Brandon Wegner, or it “will take all appropriate measures to vindicate the rights” of Wegner.
In a letter to the school district, the organization claims Wegner was accused of violating a bullying policy and was required to meet with administrators without his parents’ knowledge.
According to the letter, students were required to remove the page with the column from the newspaper before distributing it in school.
Liberty Counsel also claims the district’s bullying policy is unconstitutional.
WISCONSIN — A student newspaper is receiving national heat for a recent article on gay adoption, causing administrators to review and reform their prior review policies.
The Hawks Post published two opinion pieces about the issue of gay and lesbian adoption, one in support and one opposed. The more conservative article outraged many, including parent Nick Uttecht, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Uttecht, who is gay, saw the article when one of his children brought it to his attention. Uttecht said the Hawks Post article is “why students commit suicide.”
Todd Carlson, superintendent of Shawano School District, issued a statement last week stating, “There is no intent by the school district to advocate for any of these positions. As a place of learning, Shawano school district strives to cultivate a positive environment for everyone.”
The article did not match the tone of the school district’s mission, Carlson wrote.
The student opposing gay adoption quoted the Bible, calling homosexuality a sin. Uttecht and others are afraid the article encourages bullying and want to know why the piece was allowed to go to press.
The district implemented new guidelines for all schools, “to be sure that all articles are properly reviewed before going to print,” Carlson said in the statement.
The Kettle Moraine Press Association is a scholastic journalism organization based in Wisconsin. KEMPA Executive Director Linda Barrington has free speech concerns about the school’s response.
“I’m so pleased they published the article on this topic and they presented both sides,” Barrington said. “It’s the student newspaper. For the district to react like that, it isn’t reasonable all all. I feel the district is opening themselves up for a lot of problems if they’re going to open it up for prior review.”
Barrington said the student newspaper should remain in the hands of the students, not an administrator. The paper is for students and should be student run, said Barrington.
The old and new guidelines pertaining to student media and printed materials were neither provided by Carlson nor available on the district website. Carlson refused to comment on which district policy was being revised.
Shawano does have a policy on “Teaching about Controversial Issues,” which states, “differences in opinion are a continuing and important part of life in a democratic society.” The policy, according to the website, was approved in January 1999.
“It is, therefore, a responsibility of the school to help young people develop the skills of rational thought that are needed for an objective approach to a study of issues on which people differ,” according to the policy.
The Hawks Post is an English course, not an extracurricular activity.
“When somebody brings to the surface a hurtful sentiment, the best way to respond is by educating,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of Student Press Law Center. “I’m concerned that the result of this controversy is that students will not take charge on editorial pages. It’s much healthier to hash out these issues on the newspaper than in the locker room.”
LoMonte said calling for more censorship is not the answer.
“Be careful when letting the genie out of the censorship bottle because it has a way of turning on you,” LoMonte said.
The newspaper’s adviser, Alicia Hoffman, declined to comment. The student authors could not be reached.