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Florida principal
yanks student newspaper column on gays

Florida principal
yanks student newspaper column on gays

A high school principal in Orange Park, Fla., has withheld published copies of a student newspaper to eliminate an opinion column written by a student about homosexuality. Katie Thompson, a 17-year-old senior, wrote a column titled "Homosexuality Is Not a Choice" for the October 10 edition of the student newspaper at Ridgeview High School. Ridgeview is located in Clay County, about 12 miles south of Jacksonville. Thompson, who is bisexual, said her teacher approved the 300-word essay, but Principal Toni McCabe objected and claimed the subject was "too mature for a high school audience."

Telephone calls Friday to McCabe, Clay County school superintendent David Owens, school spokeswoman Darlene Mahla, all five school board members, and Thompson's home were not immediately returned. According to an e-mail sent by Mahla to school board members, the school principal was able to intercept the newspaper, Panther Prints, before it went to students. "A member of the school's newspaper staff wrote an article that was placed in the opinion section of the newspaper about her sexuality as a lesbian and her Christian views," read the e-mail, obtained by The Florida Times-Union. The newspaper also obtained a copy of Thompson's column, which reads in part: "Homosexuals do not choose to be the way they are. It is a biological stimulation of the brain.... Some individuals think that they, with their extreme religious beliefs, can turn homosexuals to a heterosexual status. Those people, along with other homophobes in our country, set up counseling groups for homosexuals to try to change them." Thompson said she was called to McCabe's office and told the newspaper would not be circulated because of her article. "I didn't understand why--there's no reason to pull this. It wasn't overtly sexual or obscene or racist," she told The Florida Times-Union. The student made copies of the article and began distributing it over lunch. She was again called back to McCabe's office and threatened with suspension. Jo Thompson, Katie's mother, said district officials are narrow-minded about issues of homosexuality and repeatedly have mishandled similar situations. The newspaper censorship is the third time the district has been embroiled in controversy over sexual orientation issues. In February, lesbian Kelli Davis wore a tuxedo instead of a traditional drape for her senior school portrait. Fleming Island High School principal Sam Ward cited a dress code violation and removed her picture from the yearbook. Both the school board and superintendent supported his decision. After the issue drew national attention and Davis threatened to sue, the school board approved an out-of-court settlement that revised the photo policy and added the term "sexual orientation" to antidiscrimination policies and training. On September 29, sixth-grade teacher Larry Eger resigned from Swimming Pen Elementary School while under investigation by the district. Eger is accused of punishing two boys by bringing them to the front of the classroom and telling them to hold hands. They refused, and then Eger told them to sit knee-to-knee. He reportedly called them gay. Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said a 1988 Supreme Court ruling gives school officials the power to censor content if there is a reasonable educational justification. "But to silence student expression because you disagree with their view, that is virtually never permissible," Goodman said Friday. "This is clearly an issue there is a lot of disagreement about. What school officials have to accept is these issues are a part of life, part of the American debate," Goodman said. Karen Doering, an attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who represented Kelli Davis, said Clay County schools have a record of discrimination against gay and lesbian students. "This administration is so overly hypersensitive to anything related to sexual orientation that it can't been seen, heard, or discussed," she said Friday. "It is an age-appropriate topic for the editorial section of a school newspaper," Doering said. (AP)

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