High school principal kills student paper in Ky. - WDRB 41 Louisville News

High school principal kills student paper in Ky.


PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) -- A western Kentucky high school administrator spiked the 2011 senior edition of the student newspaper, saying it was an effort to prevent a disturbance and the paper's production was unsupervised.

Heath High School Principal Jon Reid said he confiscated 600 copies of the Heath Post on May 20 because there were "sensitive issues" included in the edition and distribution to students was potentially damaging. Reid had the papers seized no more than 20 minutes after distribution.

"There should have been an adult to look over it," Reid said. Seniors Chelsea Harris, Sarah Quarles and Lexy Gross produced the edition over two months. Quarles told The Paducah Sun that the confiscation was "offensive."

"I cared because I put so much work into it. It wasn't right at all," Harris added.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., agrees the action was not only unfair, but said it was illegal.

Constitutional free speech laws give students the right to publish anything they want as long as it does not create a physical disturbance that would hinder the school's instructional environment, such as a protest, walkout or bomb threat, Goldstein said.

"The real simple principle here, that I think the school should take to heart, is if you have to ask if it's a disruption, it's a not a disruption," he said. "Orderly complaints aren't going to cause a problem. The idea that something that can be disruptive in a way that nobody but the principal notices is laughable. It doesn't even approach what the legal standard is."

Harris, Quarles and Gross, who have since graduated from Heath, say they do not plan to pursue the matter, but still believe it was wrong and unfair for Reid to pull the papers.

Molly Goodman, director of public relations for McCracken County Schools, said Reid was within his rights to pull the papers.

Goodman said a board policy based on a state law gives the principal the right to take any action he believes would prevent the disruption of the educational process.

Board attorney Gorman Bradley said a Kentucky anti-bullying law further defends this right. Under that law, he said that anything considered bullying, which includes joking that the subject may find offensive, applies.

"If he thought the law's been violated he has a right to pull it," Bradley said of Reid.

The law includes a section that specifically addresses written communication. Bradley explained that a student newspaper differs from a regular newspaper under the statute in that a community newspaper can print content that would be considered bullying under free speech laws while a student newspaper cannot.

Reid explained that two senior students, a male and a female, visited the guidance counselor's office in tears barely five minutes after the papers went out that day. He said that prompted him to find out who wrote and distributed the publication.

Upon meeting with Harris and Gross, as Quarles was out sick the day the papers came out, Reid then learned that no teacher or adult had edited the content. He promptly ordered the girls to collect the copies back.

Reid said that while the seniors were no longer in class at that point, all the underclassmen were still preparing for finals, and he did not want to allow something that could potentially hinder their study time.

"I just thought it was a good safety measure to protect the learning environment of the other students because we already had two who were so upset," he said.

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