Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Principal shuts down newspaper




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        Maybe subtitles would have worked: “Captioning for the humor-impaired.”

        Or some sort of interim step: “Hey, if you kids don't cut that out, we're going to start really hanging over your shoulder.”

        Instead, Walnut Hills High School Principal Marvin O. Koenig suspended publication of the venerable high school newspaper, The Chatterbox. The publication's very name is a tip-off to how long it has been around — nearly 90 years, according to the volume number on its first page.

        The school itself is 106 years old and the academic jewel in Cincinnati Public School's somewhat tarnished crown. Last year's class collectively won $7.2 million in college scholarships and grants. Diversity is a very big brag word at “Da Nut.” Not just racial diversity, but diversity of thought.

        So I was thinking maybe I just missed the point. Perhaps geezerdom has robbed me of my ability to sniff out hidden meaning, smut and evil. I read the offending articles on the page labeled “Humor” and looked at the cartoon by student Zack Gates. I thought it was, well, funny.

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        Of course, I am not Dr. Gerald Houghton, who was depicted in the cartoon. I do not know Dr. Houghton, an assistant principal, but I am guessing those who love him would not say this is a flattering portrait. He appears to be physically divided on the issue of Saturday School. Worse pictures exist of me. But, of course, they are photographs.

        Humor page editor Sean Krebs is not similarly divided on Saturday School, which is detention for skipping class. He says it's hugely unpopular. And unfair. And worthless. So he made fun of everybody who has anything to do with it. Dr. Houghton and a couple of teachers got caught in the crossfire.

        It is worth noting there was no actual crossfire. Just an honest difference of opinion. This was not some punk trying to see if he could sneak the f-word into a school newspaper. And it was balanced by an editorial by Maureen Tracey-Mooney: “In a time when students are being killed in high schools like ours, there are more important things to fight for than the right to skip school or be disrespectful to a teacher.”

        Another honest difference of opinion, something we might expect from these bright and well-educated students. But Mr. Koenig is perfectly within his rights to shut them down. The Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that “Schools do not violate free speech rights of students by exercising control over style and content of school-sponsored student newspapers if the actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

        Mr. Koenig and key editors of the paper are meeting today, when he says, “They may come up with something to prove to me that we should resume publication.”

        I guess he means something besides the fact that this paper provides a forum for ideas, something besides the fact that complaining in public is a lot braver than taking a Krylon can of paint and complaining on a wall, and healthier than seething in private. And that it's always a lot easier to shut kids up than to listen.
        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.

       



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