Letitia Stein, St. Petersburg Times, Oct. 24, 2006
There are few issues in American education as widely discussed as the achievement gap, the racial divide that separates the academic performance of white and minority students.
But not at Hillsborough High School, where the principal pulled an article detailing the school’s achievement gap from the student newspaper.
Principal William Orr called the content inappropriate, even though it focused on data the federal government publicizes under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Instead of a story and chart, students found a gaping hole Monday in the Red & Black, the school newspaper.
“If it’s something that has a potential to hurt students’ self-esteem, then I have an obligation not to let that happen,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the job of the school newspaper to embarrass the students.”
Editor-in-chief Emily Matras wrote the article, which included a chart breaking down Hillsborough High student test scores as reported on the state Education Department’s Web site. She wanted to let classmates know what the school administration was doing to address the divide, including a schoolwide reading push.
Students stayed at school until 8 p.m. Friday cutting the article out of Page 3 in the October edition. It was replaced by a stapled note explaining that the administration offered to reprint the edition, but the newspaper’s staff didn’t want to delay publication.
Students were told not to talk about the article. The St. Petersburg Times contacted several after learning what happened.
“It did not condone anything immoral. It didn’t talk of drug use or pregnancy or teen violence,” said Simone Kallett, the newspaper’s features editor and a sophomore. “It was a very fact-based article, and we don’t understand why it was pulled.”
Orr allowed a Times reporter to read the article briefly in his office, but not to quote it.
In explaining his decision to remove the article, Orr cited a U.S. Supreme Court case giving school administrators broad power to censor student newspapers. But it’s not absolute.
The Red & Black is known as one of the more aggressive student newspapers in Hillsborough County. The latest edition features a front-page article about a junior arrested for bringing an unloaded gun to school.
Orr noted that it was only the second time in more than 20 years as a school administrator that he removed an article from a student newspaper. He had two other school administrators review it.
“If it had appeared in the Tampa Tribune or St. Petersburg Times, we wouldn’t have thought anything of it,” said Bertha Baker, assistant principal for administration. “But a student newspaper has to be a little more sensitive to the feelings of the students.”