Column: Censoring the facts

By Todd Swiss

The student newspaper of Oak Ridge High School, at Oak Ridge, Tenn., was yanked out of circulation on Nov. 22 due to what the administration calls “inappropriate material.” The article in question was a factually accurate piece on birth control and the success rates of various types of contraception. The article also informed readers where they could obtain the contraceptives.

In the past, there have been multiple instances of newspaper seizures in high schools for various reasons. Some of the cases resulting in the seizures have even made it to the Supreme Court. While the student editor and faculty advisor have not decided whether to take legal steps against the school district, the administrators are squarely in the wrong. This article is not out of line in any way. It does not break any cardinal sins of journalism. The article laid scientific facts out and informed the readers on where they could find more information if they were inclined to do so. The faculty advisor surely looked over the content of the paper and decided that the content did not break any laws. The only reason the paper was pulled is because of the superintendent’s flawed idea of morality.

Surely this controversy began after a parent of a student told their parents what was in the school newspaper. A parent, fearful of what their child may be learning in school, probably complained and got the censorship ball rolling. However, the problem is that many parents cannot differentiate between what the school teaches and what is in the newspaper. The paper, while funded by the school, is not the voice of the school. It is the print equivalent of regular students talking about issues between classes. The Oak Ridge High School administration is not only censoring decent journalism, but it is censoring factual information as well.

Many people on the side of the administration argue that this article is on the same level of a sex-ed class and that parents have the right to take their child out of such a class. This argument is completely ridiculous. The content of a school newspaper should not be considered education. It is not a part of the required curriculum. Nobody is forcing students to read the school paper. There will not be tests and quizzes on the material covered in the paper.

The newspaper has two true functions: it gives students a learning experience in the world of journalism, and it gives the student body a voice. They choose issues that are pertinent to their daily lives and write about them. This move by the administration not only silences the voice of the students, but it also may steer passionate journalism students away from a potential career.

Generally, for an article to run in a paper, it has to be thought of as useful to its readership. It would be naive to assume that high school students are not interested in sex or contraception. While it is very possible that people will not find the article to be interesting or even useful, many will take knowledge from it and become more informed citizens. Additionally, the fact that the administration does not allow this information to be passed on to the students is a disservice. They are not only attempting to keep issues of human sexuality out of the classroom, but they are also trying to keep the information from passing between the students.

The administrators commented that there are 14-year-olds reading the paper and that they do not want to hide anything from parents. This is a pathetic excuse for the administration’s true agenda. Any sizable school will have a plethora of books and pamphlets with exactly the same statistics and information. Students can just go and read this material during study hall or even during their lunch period. Additionally, the Internet is a readily available source for information about safe sex and other related topics. Students do not have trouble finding this information and probably can hide their knowledge-finding abilities from their parents quite well.

Todd Swiss is a senior in LAS. His column runs every Tuesday. He can be reached at [email protected]