Story about sexual harassment charges removed from paper because 'hurtful'
WASHINGTON — Censorship. It is a powerful word. One which sparks controversy whenever it is mentioned, and civil unrest wherever it is employed. Censorship is an authority’s right to prior review with the power to delete. It is now being practiced at Port Townsend High School.
So began the front page article of the Arrow, the Port Townsend High School student newspaper, after it was forced to pull a front page story in February in which students alleged that a school staff member was guilty of sexual harassment.
The Arrow was notified in a memo from Principal Arcella Hall in which she stated, “I am activating my authority to monitor student publications. I will see the next copy of the Arrow before it is printed.”
“The [staff] saw it as a threat to their ability to do honest journalism and appealed Hall’s decision to Port Townsend School District Superintendent, Dr. Gene Medina” reported the Arrow. They also discussed the issue of prior review with Hall, but no change was made.
Arrow adviser Steve Simpson asked Hall for a copy of her orders and her justification for giving them. Her response stated, “I consider this article to be hurtful to a staff member and potentially disruptive to the operation of the school.”
The staff and the adviser are currently complying with the prior review policy but are also appealing it.
Simpson sent a letter to the members of the school board arguing that the Arrow is a “forum for student expression.” He added that the student editorial staff has controlled the content of the paper for the past two-and-one-half years. Simpson contends that because the Arrow is a student-controlled forum for student expression, the administration has no legal right to censor material unless it “materially and substantially disrupts the education process.”
Editor Elizabeth Martin decided to write a letter to the school board appealing the censorship. If the school board affirms the censorship then Martin plans to take the issue to court.
reports, Spring 1996