Carson High's student newspaper has run afoul of school authorities for the second consecutive week, this time over articles that argue for legalized marijuana, the benefits of masturbation and greater sexual freedom among teenagers.
After consulting with his superiors, Principal Kenneth Keener decided to postpone Wednesday's scheduled publication. He said that three signed opinion pieces needed better writing and alternative viewpoints.
Last week, an edition of the Trailblazer was withdrawn after publication because of an anonymous article that among other things compared rowdy black students at a nearby Taco Bell to a "pack of monkeys." At the time, all sides agreed that the issue would be quickly reprinted without the offending piece.
But new problems arose because "even if you are presenting an opinion piece it should include pros and cons," Keener said. "The article about legalizing marijuana doesn't talk about any of the consequences of breaking the law or talk about research that marijuana is a gateway to other drugs."
Keener cited district policy, which states, "Controversial subjects should be presented in depth with a variety of viewpoints published." Board policy also bans obscenity and "material which advocates the breaking of any law."
Editor in Chief Alex De Vera said students are contemplating protests that will not violate school rules and are looking into the school district's appeals process and legal options.
"I am angry," De Vera said. "These articles are simply opinions. If we have to fight, we will fight."
Keener replied: "I have no problem with due process. This will bring about a clarification of board rules and the principal's role."
The students have substantial legal protections on their side, said Mark Goodman, executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based Student Press Law Center. "Hundreds of high school publications in California have written about those exact same topics in recent years. For anyone who's spent time in a high school, it's hard to argue they're not issues teenagers think about," Goodman said.
The masturbation piece starts by listing slang expressions for what it calls "America's favorite forbidden pastime."
The article, Keener said, is something "students may be interested in, but was it correct to be printed in a student newspaper?"
He added that several parents raised objections at a meeting Tuesday that also included De Vera and faculty journalism advisor Gregory Vieira. "The parents basically said they didn't want to see an article about masturbation. That was my impression -- that this is something that should be dealt with at home. I'm not saying an article about masturbation is inappropriate, but it needs to be presented fairly."
Students agreed to revise the article on sexual freedoms, which argued in part that, "at puberty, we began these sexual yearnings around 13 or 14 so the right to 'act' on those should be left up to us at puberty and thereafter."
Vieira said that, overall, students have been committed to improving the entire issue, which now includes "letters beating up the paper for what happened last week."
The fallout also included a visit to the racially diverse campus Friday from specialists in the district's new human relations division.
"Some students talked about their experiences being called names and racial slurs," De Vera said. "A lot of us had answers that, of course, there is always racism -- we're no exception -- but it's not as extreme as in other schools."