Students consider lawsuit after principal pulls news story

Tuesday, June 9, 1998

A high school principal in Carrollton, Texas, pulled a story about the formation of a gay and lesbian support club from the school newspaper, saying she worried about the effect it would have on the “conservative nature of the community.”

“I didn't want a negative reaction before we even had a club,” said Lee Alvoid, principal of Newman Smith High School. “This is not just one of your normal teen-age clubs. I didn't want undue controversy.”

Alvoid, a former college journalism student, pulled the story from the school year's last edition of The Odyssey. The paper won't be published again until school resumes in September.

In the meantime, the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board plans to determine this summer whether students can form the club at school. According to the Odyssey article, which was pulled, some 200 students had signed a petition for the club.

The story, written by senior Chrissy Ragan, included interviews with students, teachers and school officials voicing support for and opposition to the club. Her article also explored how such clubs have fared in other schools across the nation.

After Alvoid pulled the story, the students filled the space with an article decrying the decision. A red-stamped “Censored” appeared on the front page.

“I have a journalism background. I'm probably the world's least likely censor,” Alvoid told The Dallas Morning News. “I'm going to make sure they write it in the September issue after all this. I may write it myself.”

Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, described the pulling of the story as “bogus” and an “example of censorship,” even if the principal said she would allow the story to run next fall.

“Not that the students may not want to write about it then, but part of their intent was to inform people of the issue before the school board addressed it this summer,” Goodman said.

Goodman said he questioned whether the school could invoke the Hazelwood decision in dealing with The Odyssey. The 1988 Supreme Court decision said school officials can censor school-sponsored student expression if they have a legitimate educational reason for doing so.

“This is a publication that has been free from censorship for some years,” Goodman said. “The students could argue that the newspaper has become an open forum for student expression.

“Even assuming that the Hazelwood decision applies here, I'm not sure the school could present a legitimate educational reason for holding this story,” he said. “Solely, they don't want it to appear in print now.”