• Student’s newspaper article on gay adoption causes stir at high school

    Date: 02.29.12 | by Judge Tom.

    Brandon Wegner is a 15 year-old student at Shawano Community High School in Wisconsin. The school’s journalism classes produce The Hawks Post, an all-student newspaper. There are limited prior review policies that include the statement that “differences in opinion are a continuing and important part of life in a democratic society.”

    Two students wrote opposing opinion pieces on the subject of gay adoption. Brandon’s article explained why gay adoption should not be allowed. He cited various authorities including verses from the Bible. Brandon referred to homosexuality as a sin. Fellow student, Maddie Marquardt, wrote her piece favoring adoption by gay persons. She argued that children need two parents and cited the shortage of foster homes for available children. You can read both articles here.

    Photo by Andreia (Flickr)

    A gay parent read the articles and complained to the school. Nick Uttecht considered Brandon’s anti-gay message to constitute bullying. Brandon was called to the principal’s office, questioned and allegedly threatened with suspension. He refused to apologize for his opinion. The school announced that it would review its policy regarding student columns and freedom to express opinions without prior review by the administration.

    Hopefully, the review won’t result in a tightening of censorship of student speech. A statement from the school’s 1999 written policy should be heeded:

    “It is, therefore, a responsibility of the school to help young people develop the skills of rational thought that are needed for an objective approach to a study of issues on which people differ.”

    In another case involving a photograph in a student newspaper, consider the lawsuit filed in 2012 by high school graduate Kenneth Clements of Reagan/Doral High School in Florida. In February, 2011, the school newspaper, the Reagan Advocate, ran a story titled “Teens Stay Quiet About STD’s.” Accompanying the story was a photo of Kenneth, with his face blurred, but allegedly clearly identifiable with an “X” photoshopped over his mouth. Kenneth wasn’t asked about using his photo for the story, nor did he consent to its use. He claims in his libel suit against the school district that his reputation was ruined and that it made him a social outcast.

    For more about censorship and student speech, see this post that incudes a comment on the 1988 Hazelwood decision.

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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