School board disavows sex story


Instead of censorship, district inserts letter in controversial issue





VIRGINIA -- The Danville School Board stopped short of censoring\nan article in a high school newspaper about the dangers of oral\nsex, instead inserting a letter into the issue saying it did not\nsupport the way the students covered the story.

The board also made editors change the names of students quoted\nin several stories, but it backed down from its threat to change\nthe content of the stories.

The April 9 edition of the Chatterbox, the student newsmagazine\nat George Washington High School, was distributed a month after\nits original publication date with a letter from the school board\nstating that it did not "agree with the manner in which the\nsubject matter of this issue has been presented."

The Chatterbox has a long history of covering controversial\ntopics and had recently raised the ire of school officials for\nhighlighting dilapidated school facilities, according to Chatterbox\nadviser Marie Harris.

Harris said the school board's assertion that it only disagreed\nwith the article's wording and not the subject was just a cover\nto shield bad publicity.

"Behind the scenes, they just didn't like all these stories\nbecause they wanted nothing out there that said kids have any\nproblems that the school board couldn't eliminate," she said.

The board ordered students to change the names of several students\nquoted in a story about interracial dating, saying hate groups\nwould harass students who were identified in the article. The\nboard asked editors to do the same in other stories about teen\nparenting and society's standards for dating in high school.

Chatterbox editors, including a staffer who was in an interracial\nrelationship, protested the name changes during a school board\nmeeting.

"By making us change the names, you are telling the couples\nthey should be ashamed of their relationship and should hide it,"\nphotography editor Kelly Baker told the board. "It is time\nthat we stop whispering about things that were considered wrong\n25 to 50 years ago and bring them to the public's attention."

Assistant Superintendent Randy Kelley said the board and administrators\nwere most concerned about the oral sex article, saying it read\nmore like a "how-to" guide rather than an article stressing\nsafety. He said that for a conservative Southern town like Danville,\nthe article was too risque.

"Are you really trying to educate kids, or are you really\ntrying to get a reaction from somebody?" Kelley said. "It\nbothered a lot of people as to what's the purpose of this."

"It wasn't so much the content and the subject matter\nas it was the wording and the way it was presented," he said.

Former head of the school's English department and Danville\nCity Councilwoman Ruby Archie defended the paper against the board's\nactions. She said the paper has a history of tackling controversial\ntopics and was only reporting facts that were important for the\nwell-being of students at risk for contracting sexually transmitted\ndiseases.

"They reported facts," she said. "They had the\ndata to go along with the article."


Fall 2001, reports