Commentary provokes principal to pull papers

School officials trash millennium edition

OREGON -- The Elkton community was not partying like it was 1999 when the millennium edition of the Elkton High School student newspaper, The Elk Call, hit the school's newsstands in December.

A sarcastic commentary published in reply to a letter from a community member about the poor grades of Elkton students prompted the school board to halt the distribution of 500 newspapers and order them destroyed.

The commentary was written by newspaper staff member Andy Baird in reply to a letter to the editor from an Elkton community member bemoaning academic problems at the school. The letter was written in response to news that half of the 80-student high school received D's and F's, according to Ellen Stark, former editor of The Elk Call.

In his piece, Baird said, "Oh Lord, we are asking you now today that you open up these suffering imbecile's eyes and reach into their very soul to instill in them all of the arrogance, superciliousness and self-importance that you, Lord, have bestowed unto us."

"His editorial was pretty sarcastic," said Stark, "It basically put down the Elkton community."

Baird, whose father chairs the Elkton school board, could not be reached for comment.

Charles Sharps, principal of Elkton High School and superintendent of the Elkton school district, justified the confiscation of the papers, saying the millennium issue was not up to the standards of the school and was poorly written.

He also said it was full of "gonzo journalism," which he defined as journalism written with the intent to upset people.

"We have a right not to send out the papers to the community if it is poorly written," Sharps said, adding that he also has the right to decide the editorial content of the paper.

The newspapers had already been distributed to students in the school before Sharps decided to remove them. The 500 confiscated copies were slated for people in the town.

"I read them and looked at them, and the more I thought about it, the less I thought that they should be going out to our constituents," Sharps said.

Stark, who resigned from her position as editor shortly after the incident occurred, said a woman who worked in the school district saw the newspapers while they were in the school and wanted to pull her ad because she did not want it associated with The Elk Call after reading the controversial article.

Stark said she brought the advertising problem to Sharps, who said he would bring the issue to the school board. The board decided not to distribute the newspapers to the tightly knit community.

Stark said that after the incident, Sharps spoke to her journalism class.

"He was yelling at us that it was our fault," she said.

She said Sharps wanted changes made to The Elk Call and told staff members that the newspaper would only publish news concerning Elkton schools in the future.

Stark, who was editor of The Elk Call for two and half years, has dropped out of the journalism class and resigned from the newspaper.

"I didn't want to work under that kind of idea," she said. "[It means] we can't really have free speech in high school."  

reports, Spring 2000