Censorship In The Schools p. 12

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Survey by People for the American Way cites student
newspapers, magazines and school plays as frequent targets sp.

ATTEMPTED CENSORSHIP OF school materials and curricula continued to increase last year, with student newspapers, magazines and school plays as frequent targets.
According to a report from People for the American Way, there were 458 challenges in 49 states during the 1994-95 school year, 338 of which were attempts to censor material (50% were successful) and 120 were more broad-based challenges to public education.
"One of the most disturbing findings in this year's report, and perhaps the central finding, is that the success rate for would-be censors hit 50% for the first time in the 13 years we have compiled this report," commented PAW executive vice president and legal director Elliot Mincberg.
Further, PAW estimated that for every incident reported, there are four or five that go unreported.
The report, Attacks on the Freedom to Learn found that sexual content, objectionable language and religion were the most frequent causes for objection, although objections to "promoting" homosexuality showed a 50% increase from the year before.
California led with the most overall challenges, followed by Texas and Pennsylvania. Hawaii and the District of Columbia reported none.
Most of the objections were to books and library materials ? many of which were not required reading ? although curricula, films, plays and student publications also came under fire.
The Family Research Council, which distributed its statement outside the PAW press conference in Washington, disagreed that these actions are problems.
"When a government restricts what its citizens can read, that's censorship. When parents have input on what local officials do in the schools, that's democracy," stated FRC president Gary L. Bauer.
"It stretches the limits of the imagination to believe that 458 phone calls over 365 days spread over 80,000 public schools and 15,000 public libraries is some kind of terrible groundswell of social destruction ? that's not even one call per member of Congress," he noted in a released statement.
Mincberg pointed out, however, that the report does not include as censorship parents who want to have their own children "opt out" from a particular assignment.
"What we mean by censorship is when anyone . . . tries to ban or limit access to books or other materials by every student for ideological or religious reasons," he explained.
When it came to attempts to censor student publications, People for the American Way found that many school officials relied on the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which allowed a high school principal to censor material in a school-sponsored student-run news-
"Six states ? Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts ? have passed their own student freedom of expression bills, giving students broader rights than the Hazelwood decision allowed them," the report noted.
"But some school officials have interpreted Hazelwood as granting them broad, even unchecked, authority," it continued.
"In some cases, student journalists who balk at the censorship of the school-sanctioned newspapers have started their own 'underground' newspapers, only to find those censored, as well."
Although People for the American Way found that many of the challenges were coming from the Religious Right or groups affiliated with it, about 5%, or 16 incidents, were brought by the political Left. They involved charges of racism against African Americans or Native Americans.
Among the attempts to censor student newspapers were:
? Objections to a Troy, Ala., article about alcohol consumption and nudity were sustained by the principal and removed from the newspaper. When the principal did not respond to an appeal in a timely fashion, the students and their advisor attempted to go to press but were told by the printer that he was instructed by the principal not to print the newspaper. An article about the censorship in the next edition also was censored.
? An article about witches in a Tucson, Ariz., paper was withheld because it did not contain enough factual information, according to a school official. The student author refused a directive to rewrite the article to include more negative aspects of witchcraft.
? In Atlanta, Ga., a high school principal did not allow publication of a series of articles on teenage sex because they discussed distributing condoms and surveyed students about sexual behavior. The principal maintained this was the only thing he has ever asked them not to do, but a student editorial criticized the decision.
? A poem called "H.I.V." was submitted to a Marietta, Ga., high school literary journal, but the assistant principal refused to allow its publication, contending that the use of the words "queers" and "dykes" were profane and did not comport to the town's conservative nature.
The student refused to take the words out, and the poem was printed in the local newspaper along with an article about the controversy. Since then, however, the student and her family were harassed so severely that the mother is home-schooling her two children.
? Planned Parenthood bought an ad in a Connersville, Ind., high school paper, but objectors said it should be withdrawn because it promoted special interest or political advertising.
The school board took it a step further and banned all advertising in the student newspaper ? which had used the revenue to supplement the cost of printing more photos in the paper. Students then were told that the school would no longer pay to have the newspaper commercially printed, and they would have to use the school's copy machine to produce the publication.
The principal later compromised and allowed commercial printing but upheld the ban on advertising.
? A principal in Indianapolis, Ind., removed an article about gay students from the student newspaper, fearing that its controversial topic might incite trouble. A month before, he had confiscated 1,700 copies of the paper because of an article he believed would create racial tensions. After the first incident, he issued a memo telling the faculty not to speak to the press.
Despite his insistence that they were relieved to have such a policy, many faculty members called the local papers anonymously to complain about the policy.
? A school newspaper in Burlington, Iowa, was criticized for allegedly invoking gang imagery, being negative against school and showing poor judgment. The principal and advisor refused to print the symbol ? the sign language symbol for "I love you" ? and pulled a critical editorial about the school's drug awareness and resistance education program.
Despite the fact that the action violated state and district law, as well as school policy, the students said they learned of their rights after a local paper printed a story about the censorship.
? After objections to a high school newspaper editorial advocating gay rights and publication of a photo of two men kissing, the principal told the newspaper advisor that future publications would be censored by the administration.
The next issue featured an editorial criticizing the decision and advocating students' rights to control their own newspapers.
? Students challenged in court an assertion by the Raleigh, N.C., school district that it would review all non-school-sponsored publications prior to distribution. The school district settled out of court by agreeing to suspend its prior review policy for a year, after which it can reinstate it, if students are given notice.
? Although the local media reported the story extensively, a Pittsburgh, Pa., high school newspaper was told to submit to the superintendent for approval stories about an affair between a school board member and a district administrator. A passing reference to the affair was cut from two opinion pieces and an editorial about the incident was removed completely. However, just as the student paper was to go to press, the superintendent reconsidered and allowed the faculty advisor to make the final decision.
While the advisor did not change the cuts at that point, he said the students could write about the affair in future issues.
In addition to censoring student publications, the report found challenges to magazines carried in school libraries. Among the magazines found objectionable were Ms., Seventeen, Hot Rod, YM, and Rolling Stone. In some cases the magazines were removed, while in others they were placed on less accessible shelves.
Students also saw their speeches and posters in school hallways censored, films and tapes of television programs were banned, and even online services were affected.
In the first such case documented by PAW, a CD-ROM from Voyager Co. called Who Built America, which was included with software distributed to schools that bought Apple computers, came under fire for three gay-related references and one to abortion. Voyager refused to edit the award-winning CD-ROM and Apple said it had not yet made a final decision about whether to include it in the future in packages for schools.
In Urbandale, Iowa, the school principal requested removal of the Internet Yellow Pages, a reference guide to electronic addresses that included those with access to pornography and instructions on how to build a bomb. The majority of the review committee voted to keep the directory, but the superintendent's final decision was pending as the PAW report went to press.


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