MONTANA — TheHellgate High School principal will begin exercising prior review of studentpublications after a sex-focused Valentine’s Day issue.
The Hellgate Lancepublished a Valentine’s Day issue focused on love and sex — butmostly sex, said Elizabeth Kaleva, attorney for Missoula County Public Schools.
Articles pertained to pornography, sexuality and casualsexual relations, suggesting students “try bisexuality for Valentine’s Day,”and that pornography is a “healthy form of sexual expression,” according to theMissoulian.
Kaleva said the bi-weekly newspaper violated the district’sstudent publications policy, which states, “controversial issues may bepresented provided they are treated in depth and represent a variety ofviewpoints. Such materials may not be libelous, obscene, or profane nor maythey cause a substantial disruption of the school…”
Kaleva said the stories did not present both sides and were inappropriatefor a high school publication.
“They used photos of an off-campus event, Off the Rack,”Kaleva said. “Students were dressed in outfits made primarily of condoms andthere was an individual with a female mannequin posed in a fashion that is notappropriate for a high school newspaper.”
Off the Rack is an annual fashion show hosted by thenonprofit Blue Mountain Clinic. The show seeks to confront gender stereotypesand sexuality stigmas through clothing items made with condoms and otheralternative textile materials, according to the event’s Facebook page. Theevent was not sponsored by Missoula County Public Schools but photos appearedin the student newspaper.
Principal Russ Lodge will now be reviewing the publicationbefore it goes to print. The district policy states, “all school publicationsare under the supervision of a teacher, sponsor, and the principal. Schoolofficials have the discretion to edit or delete material which is inconsistentwith the District’s educational mission.”
Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate with the Student Press LawCenter, said prior review needs to be used correctly if it’s used at all.
“You don’t dabble in prior review,” Goldstein said. “Youeither do it or not do it. Prior review involves the rights of students so youcan’t do it casually.”
Lodge and adviser Jill Derryberry declined comment. Bothissued statements apologizing for content in the student publication. Thestudent writers and editorial board could not be reached for comment.
“Everything that a principal reviews is subject toconstitutional protection and if they don’t know those standards, they’re justgoing to end up in a lawsuit,” Goldstein said.
Kaleva said prior review has been a part of the studentpublication policy for several years.
“Prior review is an option the administration has,” Kalevasaid. “Given the circumstances, the principal is going to exercise his right toreview the publication until he deems it appropriate.”
Kaleva said the student publication will not be disciplinedbecause as a staff they exercised their judgment. But the principal has theright to disagree with their judgment, Kaleva said.
“The district has never censored content that is critical ofthe administration or any controversial content,” Kaleva said. “Policy justrequires that there be a balance of information — as long as it shows bothsides — but this did not do that. Students are free to question and be awatchdog, that’s part of journalism. But it needs to show both sides.”