Question marks raise censors' eyebrows
ALASKA — When the staff of The Pegasus at Chugiak High School upped its circulation from 500 to 5,000 and made an effort to cover some of the more controversial issues in its community, school administrators began censoring every issue of the paper, citing a never-before used prior review policy adopted three years ago.
The censorship problems began in September, when administrators forced revisions of a horoscope column. The original draft of the column made a connection between Virgo and the Virgin Mary.
Then, in the October issue of The Pegasus, illustrations for a story on the dangers of drug and alcohol use were deemed “inappropriate” and were censored. The staff published the paper, filling the empty space with a statement that said, “This space originally displayed informational drawings of three forms of drugs described in the accompanying article.
“The Pegasus was forced to remove them when district officials determined that these pictures were inappropriate as a matter of district policy.”
The censors struck again in November, this time removing a photo of a student streaker at a Chugiak football game, passages from a story on overcrowding at the school, illustrations from a feature story about Halloween, and citations from a school library book used in a story about vampires. The staff was also not permitted to fill those spaces with the word “Censored” or with statements like the one from the October issue. Instead, they filled the spaces with question marks and definitions of censorship.
“We were specifically told not to write anything saying that the administration had censored us. The administration wanted to censor the paper, but they didn’t want anybody to know they had censored it, they didn’t want to stand behind it,” said Gretchen Wehmhoff-Stoltze, the paper’s adviser. “As you can imagine, the question marks raised a lot of questions when the paper went out.”
The local press jumped on the story, and the streaker photo and drug illustrations were later published by The Anchorage Daily News. The school district is currently revising its policies regarding the student press. In December, The Pegasus published its first uncensored paper of the year, with an anti-censorship editorial on page 2.
“I think that because of all the media coverage, they’ve stopped censoring us,” Wehmhoff-Stoltze said. “It ended up being more trouble for the school to censor than it was to let it go. Fortunately, none of my students are very intimidatable.”
reports, Spring 1997