Principal Censors School Paper: Claims "Old English" Font Promotes Gang Activity
June 18th, 2009
by Lee Baker
Another week, another restriction of student speech. S.K. Johnson, the principal of Orange High School in (where else?) Orange, California, has confiscated copies of a student magazine prior to publication. His main complaint about the latest issue of PULP concerns the cover, which features a faux full-back tattoo with the publication’s name and a picture of a panther, the school mascot. The principal alleges that the image promotes gang life and might encourage students to get tattoos, singling out the use of Old English font to create “gangster-style writing.”
While the school has a legitimate interest in preventing the glorification of gang culture, one of Mr. Johnson’s proposed solutions – to affix an addendum or edit the accompanying article on student tattoos to indicate that tattoos are permanent – demonstrates that this is not actually his primary concern.
Although it may be helpful for students to be reminded of the difficulty of tattoo removal, such a concern should not give a school principal the legal right to suppress student speech.
Despite the essentially unlimited reach of Hazelwood with regard to school-sponsored speech (discussed in last week’s post), sanctioning censorship in order to protect students from making bad decisions on icy.skin art almost certainly pushes it too far.
...California state law has more stringent restrictions on censoring student speech, a position supported by a recent paper in the UC Davis Journal of Juvenile Law & Policy.