Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sheridan School District stands firm on censoring yearbook

Posted By on Tue, Mar 18, 2014 at 3:44 PM

TAYLOR ELLIS
  • TAYLOR ELLIS
Growing national attention to censorship of the Sheridan High School yearbook has prompted Brenda Haynes, the district superintendent, to issue a statement about the decisIon to withhold a series of student profiles rather than publish one about Taylor Ellis and his decision to come out as gay.

It was short, defiant and lacking in specifics:

"We must make decisions that lead in the proper direction for all of our students and for our community. We must not make decisions based on demands by any special interest group. The seven profiles will not be published in the yearbook.

We have reviewed state law, court cases, and our own policies. It is clear that the adults who have the responsibility for the operation of the District have the obligation to make decisions which are consistent with the mission of our school. We have done so."

The original complaint came not from a "special interest group" — though the Human Rights Campaign has since joined the controversy. It came from from student journalists, and a student press rights center broke the first news, reported here Friday. Our article included comments from Taylor and his mother and a copy of the article.

Arkansas law prohibits administrative censorship of student publications except for specific reasons, such as to avoid libel and invasion of privacy and to prevent inciting unlawful actions. As you can see, the superintendent has cited none of these reasons, only the school "mission." The school principal had earlier told Ellis the article was "too personal." Ellis is a junior and a member of the National Guard who's heading to basic training this summer.

The story has received growing attention, from local TV news crews to many national outlets. Here's a viewpoint from a Sheridan blogger who claims connections to the school. It explains that the profiles were about a variety of students with a variety of personal stories to tell. Ellis wrote about how coming to grips with his sexual orientation in an open way had improved his life, and he wrote, too, about general acceptance from students. Not particularly controversial from this point of view. The blogger commented:

The education system in any town should be the EXAMPLE, not bow down to the uneducated demands!

How are things going to change in Sheridan? How are students going to know it is okay being themselves? How are students going to become educated about other cultures if they aren't allowed to learn about them? How are you going to pretend you are protecting an openly gay student from bullying by not putting his story in the yearbook?

The Human Rights Campaign, headed by Arkansas native Chad Griffinhas pressed Sheridan to publish the profiles. Griffin, himself once an elementary student in Sheridan, wrote:

“As an Arkansas native and a former elementary school student in Sheridan, I was taught the Golden Rule – about treating others as we would like to be treated. Whatever you may say about your intentions, it does not change the fact that you have failed to uphold these values that all fair-minded Arkansans share. Addressing bullying requires stopping bullies, not muzzling harmless free expression."

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