Principal in Texas pulls paper with article on student drug use

Administrator says story had inaccuracies; article to run next month with school's response

TEXAS -- The principal of McNeil High School in Austin pulled this month's issue of the student newspaper because of an article about drug use on campus.

An article in the November edition of the Trail Blazer said that students dealt and used drugs on and around campus and that an administrator had turned a blind eye to drug deals. The article, titled "Drug use common at McNeil," was largely based on interviews with two unidentified students who claimed to be drug dealers.

In an e-mail that was sent to parents and faculty, Principal Cindy Doty said she recalled the issue because the article contained inaccuracies and because it took information from two school counselors out of context.

"I found that the content and sources could not be validated, that information from school counselors were misrepresented, and that it was not even known if the student sources even existed as the names used were aliases," she said in the e-mail.

JoyLynn Occhiuzzi, a spokeswoman for Round Rock Independent School District, said the student reporter, when questioned, would not reveal her sources and could not back up some of her factual claims.

"Her response was that it was based on perception and common knowledge," she said.

Theresa Proctor, the newspaper adviser, said she reviewed the article and recommended some changes but thought it was "overall an okay article."

Proctor believed students had the final editorial authority over the paper. In her eight years as adviser, only one article has been submitted to the principal for prior review, and the principal has never intervened, Proctor said.

"I can strongly suggest something, but it's up to the students," she said.

The Trail Blazer's masthead, which Proctor said has not changed since the newspaper's founding 16 years ago, asserts that "although under the guidance of a professional faculty member, the content of the newspaper is wholly decided and created by staff members."

The masthead and the administration's continued practice of not reviewing the newspaper before publication suggests that the newspaper has been operating as a limited public forum, according to SPLC Legal Consultant Mike Hiestand.

Typically, newspapers that are limited public forums are more protected from censorship by administrators than other school-sponsored papers.

Still, Occhiuzzi said a district policy that makes the principal responsible for all publications on campus trumps the forum statement.

"The principal has the authority to pull the paper, to suspend the paper," she said.

This month's issue has been reprinted with just the article's headline and a note that says the article will appear in the December edition. Occhiuzzi said the article will run in December alongside a "factual response" from the principal.

Austin, McNeil High School, news, Texas, The Trail Blazer