VIRGINIA — Administrators at a Virginia high school told a student reporter she couldn’t print a story about students smoking concentrated marijuana because writing about the “drug craze” would expose children to “a new and dangerous drug.” But the story didn’t go away.
“We haven’t been censored in the last 36 years, that we know of, so I definitely didn’t see that coming,” said SaraRose Martin, co-editor in chief of The Falconer, the student newspaper at Fauquier High School. “I did not expect him to censor us.”
When Martin decided to write the story about “dabbing” — the smoking of concentrated THC, marijuana’s active ingredient — because it seemed to be gaining popularity among students in her school, she submitted a draft of her article to the principal because she knew the story could stir controversy.
In a letter to Martin on March 13, Principal Clarence Burton said it would not be appropriate to run the article because the reporting could cause a substantial disruption and endanger the health of students.
“If this article was to be published, children would be exposed to a new and dangerous drug without adult guidance,” Burton said in his letter.
Martin said Burton thought it would be more appropriate for an adult, who talks to students about drugs, to bring awareness to the dangers of dabbing, and that the newspaper was not the proper forum for this information.
“I feel that that’s a little closed-minded,” Martin said. “I think that peers listen to peers, and I think it’s an important thing that students need to know. I think he’s a little naïve about how much students do know about this problem and how many people are doing it.”
On March 15, Martin appealed Burton’s decision to the superintendent, who supported the principal’s decision because the article “unintentionally promotes and encourages illegal and unhealthy activity,” Superintendent David Jeck said in a March 17 letter to Martin.
After Martin contacted The Fauquier Times about the issue, a reporter with the local newspaper wrote an article on Monday about the censorship.
Martin said the editor of Fauquier Now, a local online news outlet, contacted her after he saw her editorial on the latest edition of The Falconer, where she described the censorship. He said he was interested in running her story on the website, along with the editorial and the letters of appeal.
Lou Emerson, the editor of Fauquier Now, said he decided to publish Martin’s story because “it’s a good story that deserved publication,” adding that he didn’t see anything dangerous about it.
“When the school paper couldn’t publish it, I thought it deserved to be shared in the community,” Emerson said. “It’s a solid piece of work. There is no reason not to publish it. I suspect there are parents, teachers and students who know nothing about THC dabbing and who would find this important and helpful information.”
Ever since, Martin said she’s been hearing from students and parents who support her article and The Falconer’s right to be free from censorship.
“Most of the student body is bothered by the administration taking away our voice,” Martin said. “I’ve got a lot of parents in the community saying, ‘I didn’t know anything about this. We need to know about this. You have a voice worth listening to.’”
Contact SPLC staff writer Mariana Viera by email or at (202) 478-1926.