Editors battle principal over yearbook

Publication staffers say administrator forced them to alter content

CALIFORNIA -- Almost a year has passed since the principal of Salinas High School first put the yearbook staff on probation for what he described as a publication filled with inappropriate content. As the June deadline for the yearbook quickly approaches, staff members are starting to wonder when the battle will end.

Although the initial probation was set at a year, the staff of El Gabilan is not optimistic about the probation being lifted anytime soon after principal Joseph Pawlick censored sections of the 2000 edition, claiming it contained gang references, sexual innuendoes and spelling and grammatical errors.

At a February meeting of the Salinas Union High School District Board of Trustees, Pawlick said the yearbook contained material that advocated gangs and drug use. He also criticized the senior quote section, saying that several of the quotes contained profanity and sexual connotations.

Yearbook adviser Cynthia Hess said Pawlick's accusations were false and groundless.

"This is absurd," Hess said. "There are no obscenities or gang references in this yearbook."

Hess pointed to the fact that, in spite of the accusations, Pawlick could not provide evidence of such material in the yearbook. Trustees asked Pawlick on two occasions to provide examples to back up his accusations. Both times he failed to show any material containing gang and drug references or sexual innuendoes.

"There are no gang references and that's why he can't show proof of it," yearbook editor Minerva Herrera said.

Pawlick, however, has found support from the superintendent and school board president.

Herrera said that on several occasions, Pawlick threatened to censor sections of the yearbook if the staff refused to make the specified changes.

"He was trying to intimidate us," she said. "But it's not his right to be editing students' material."

Hess agreed.

"[Pawlick] says he wants the comments out because they make the school look bad, but what he's done makes the school look far worse than anything in print," she said.

Pawlick did not return numerous phone calls made to his office by the Report.

In the end, Herrera said, changes were made to the yearbook, including some of the senior quotes, because several seniors voiced concerns about possibly not having their quotes in the yearbook. One senior quote that Pawlick labeled sexually explicit was "High school is like a lollipop, it sucks until the end," a comment Herrera said was not sexual in any way.

"It's disheartening to see something you've worked so hard for go without meaning," Herrera said. "Everything has been changed. It doesn't really seem like part of you anymore."

Herrera has funneled her frustrations into a new venture: an underground newspaper called The Inferno that she described as an attempt to provide the student body with uncensored views.

She said the purpose of The Inferno is not to attack the school newspaper but to try to "give something back to the school that the real newspaper can't."

reports, Spring 2001