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Student journalists deserve an apology

A Times Editorial
Published October 31, 2006


Principal William Orr gave his students at Hillsborough High School in Tampa an ugly lesson in censorship. Orr stripped an article from the October edition of Red & Black, the school newspaper, that described the gap in academic performance between white and minority students. Never mind that the figures were compiled by other governmental agencies, that student journalists have broad legal rights to publish or that the data was readily available on the school district's own Web site.

Orr did more than jump the gun. He abused his authority by taking so expansive a view of his power to suppress the facts. Orr told the Times' Letitia Stein he had an "obligation" to quash any story with "a potential" to hurt the students' self-esteem. As he sees it: "I don't think it's the job of the school newspaper to embarrass the students." He's got it backward. It is not the job of principals to gag a discussion of academics with the very students they are preparing for a 21st century work force.

The story comes nowhere near the line between the rights of student journalists and the responsibilities of school principals to maintain order. If administrators were overly sensitive to lagging test scores by blacks and Hispanics because those are the two biggest blocks on campus, then they have less faith in their students than the community should like. The achievement gap is real, which is why Hillsborough High is working to close it, with efforts to boost test scores, black and Hispanic enrollment in honors science and minority parental involvement. This story is among the more relevant a campus paper could run, and Orr should publish it alongside an apology.

[Last modified October 31, 2006, 01:59:35]

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