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Texas principal pulls anti-Confederate flag editorial

The Associated Press

01.12.99

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MIDLAND, Texas — A high school principal has censored a student editorial opposing the waving of the Confederate flag at football games.

The editorial apparently took an unpopular stance at a school where the football team is known as the Rebels and the newspaper is called the Dixie Dispatch.

The principal said he killed the editorial to avoid disrupting the school.

Adam Martinez, a junior at Lee High School, said flag-waving at his school's football games irritated him, so he wrote an editorial for his journalism class.

"The purpose of this article wasn't to stir up any revolt or controversy, but I think it is an issue that needs to be dealt with," Martinez told the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

The editor of the school newspaper, senior Emily Baker, and John Briggs, Martinez's teacher, approved the editorial.

"I thought that it was reasoned and obviously thought-out and made a strong point," Briggs said. "Perhaps, in retrospect, I should have thought that it might stir up more than an ordinate level of response."

Briggs sent the editorial to Principal George Cooper, whose approval is usually routine. The day before publication, Cooper gave the paper back to Briggs with an order to delete the editorial.

In place of the editorial, the newspaper ran a picture of a punch bowl with the message, "Happy Holidays from the Dixie Dispatch staff."

Cooper said he cut the article to protect the students.

"Any of the decisions that I make are related to the potential for disruption to the educational process," he said. "I felt like the article that was written had that potential."

Cooper also said the issue has been resolved.

In October 1990, an Associated Press story cited Lee High as a school where Confederate symbols were drawing complaints. In 1991, trustees of the Midland Independent School District voted to stop using the Rebel flag as an official school spirit symbol.

Since then, the school has not allowed the flag to be displayed in the halls or on school-sponsored publications, and Cooper said he will continue to enforce that policy.

"It was not a positive issue for our school or our community at that time," Cooper said. "There was not any real reason to resurrect that."

Martinez said that although he does not question Cooper's authority to make the decision, he does question his rationale.

"For the principal to turn a blind eye by saying it's a dead issue is incorrect," he said.

Briggs, the journalism teacher, said he did not question Cooper when he learned the article was to be cut.

"I do know that Mr. Cooper and I see the concept of journalism somewhat differently," he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court's 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier affirmed the right of school officials to monitor school-sponsored publications if they can demonstrate sound educational reasons for doing so.

But Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said he wasn't sure if the principal could justify pulling the editorial on sound educational grounds.

"I think there is potentially a good indication that this was in fact viewpoint-motivated," Goodman told free! "Had the student taken a different position, this censorship would not have happened."

If the principal could show that tension over the issue was so high that violence might have broken out, he could have had a legitimate reason for pulling the editorial, he said.

"One would have to ask: Would the actual editorial provoke the response the censorship did? If this is so controversial, then maybe it should be a matter of debate for the community," Goodman said. "To pretend it isn't there is disillusioning and not a lesson we should be teaching high school students."

free! staff contributed to this report.

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