Censorship pure and simple in Oak Ridge

Sometimes people who are supposed to be smart aren’t.

That’s the case of the principal and school superintendent in Oak Ridge, Tenn., who have collaborated to execute a classic case of censorship – and make themselves look ridiculous in the process. They have stopped the distribution of the latest issue of the Oak Leaf, the student newspaper of Oak Ridge High School, because it contains a front-page article about contraception.

According to an article about the censorship in the local newspaper, The Oak Ridger:

The article primarily covers birth control methods, quotes Dr. Charles Darling, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Oak Ridge, and tells students where they may obtain contraceptives – including a quote from Darling that says parental consent is not needed to obtain birth control.

Another article just below the one in question advises sexual abstinence before marriage.

And on the inside is a two-page spread, with pictures, about tattoes and body piercing.

The superintendent Tom Bailey failed, in the Oak Ridger article, to identify any errors in either article. In fact, he failed to give any real reason why he and the principal, Becky Ervin, should have pulled the paper.

But that didn’t stop the two from confiscating the papers on Wednesday to prevent their distribution. A Saturday story in the Knoxville-News Sentinel said they went from room to room looking for the newspapers. They even went through the teachers’ desks.

The newspaper’s faculty advisor Wanda Grooms understandably did not want to defy her principal, but she was quoted as saying, “I think The Oak Leaf has had a long tradition of 50 years of operating as a public forum for students to express themselves. Kids need to talk about hard subjects in a fair and honest way.”

But not, apparently, in Oak Ridge, Tenn., a city noted for its excellent schools, its above-average educational level, and its history as a key city in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. The spirit of inquiry and openness that marked that achievement has not filtered down to this generation of educators.

According to a Friday article in the nearby Knoxville News-Sentinel, the Student Press Law Center has been contacted and has offered its assistance to the students, who are planning a protest the Monday after Thanksgiving. Mike Hiestand, a lawyer with the SPLC said:

“Hopefully, we will be able to persuade the school board to rethink this. If we don’t, we help students find lawyers and go to court.”

This is about as pure a case of censorship as you are likely to find. There is nothing wrong with the information — nothing, at least, that the censors, aka school principal and superintendent, have cited. They just do not want the information in the hands of their students.

As if their actions have a chance of preventing that. These people are not very smart.

Jim Stovall (Posted Nov. 27, 2005)

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Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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