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Florida high school newspapers passed out with a hole
Principal forces staff to cut out article about poor minority test scores before distribution
October 27, 2006

FLORIDA -- A high school principal, objecting to a story about an "achievement gap" in state test scores between white and minority students at his school, censored the article by literally having it cut out of the student-produced paper.

Hillsborough High School Principal William Orr asked staff members of the Red & Black to stay after school and physically cut out the article in question from every newspaper before distribution. The administration initially offered to pay the cost of a reprint, but the staff decided that getting the paper out in a timely manner was more important, and opted to remove the article.

Newspaper adviser Joseph Humphrey said the staff’s first concern was getting the paper published and distributed, adding, “the students rely on us.”

The article, which Orr was quoted in, showed the significant difference between the white and black students’ reading scores on Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test. The article reported that 69 percent of white students passed the reading portion of the test while only 16 percent of the black students passed. The students received the information, which is public record, from the school.

Linda Cobbe, the school district’s manager of external communication, said that Hillsborough High School is unique because it combines the test scores from both the regular and advanced-placement academic programs, which she said skews the scores.

The high school, located outside of Tampa, Fla., has a population that is listed as 26 percent white, 34 percent black, 31 percent Hispanic and 6 percent Asian.

Cobbe said the principal felt that the article would make black students feel inferior.

“He was thinking of the students and didn’t want them to feel embarrassed,” Cobbe said.

Cobbe denied that the school was keeping the student body from learning the information.

“Students have other means to seek the information on their own,” Cobbe said.

The school also recently received a “D” grade from the state’s education board.

In the article, Orr is quoted as saying, “no ethnic group will be singled out and scores need to be boosted, regardless of ethnicity, language or social situation.”

Cobbe said this is the second time Orr has pulled an article from a student newspaper because of its content. Ten years ago, as an assistant principal, Orr censored an article from the school’s publication because of what he called “vicious” content.

Cobbe said Orr is “lenient” and “not hands-on” with the paper.

“Some principals demand review, but he doesn’t do that,” Cobbe said.

After Orr gave the interview and the paper was printed, he decided he did not want the article to run and called staff members, Cobbe said.

Red & Black Editor in Chief Emily Matras said she would not comment on the matter further, pointing to recent comments she made to the St. Petersburg Times.

Matras, also the author of the censored story, told the Times she understood the decision, but did not agree with it.

Humphrey said the staff is handling the situation well while planning the next issue and “trying to move on.”

By April Hale, SPLC staff writer

© 2006 Student Press Law Center

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