HSJ Headline News
Paper's sex issue upsets parents: Articles in Central's student newspaper too much, some say
The Salina (Kan.) Journal
February 17, 2004
There was an article about the good and bad sides of teenagers having sex, another article exploring whether oral sex is really sex, another about the recent growth of "adult" stores in the area, and another about bracelets that color-code sexual availability -- and then there was the recipe for "Smells Like Sodomy Pot Roast."
For some parents, it was too much -- especially for a high school newspaper.
With a large portion of the Feb. 13 edition of the Salina Central High School paper, The Pylon, devoted to sex issues, principal Stan Vaughn's phone and e-mail were busy most of the day Monday.
Among those who called was Steven Knowles, who said he was "shocked by the explicit nature of it."
Knowles said he's not a prude, doesn't have a problem with sex education at school and discusses these issues with his daughters. But he doesn't think the school newspaper is the right forum for such issues.
"One article, addressing it responsibly, might have been OK," Knowles said. "But a lot of this was way over the line."
Too much to read about
Shelley Jackson, mother of a Central student, went through the paper page by page. She said she really didn't object strongly to the bracelet story.
It included a chart explaining what the various bracelet colors mean (orange, for example, means kiss), but the story also stated "a lot of teenagers are outraged at being associated with this (the bracelet's) secret meaning, while most have never heard of it," and ended up dismissing the whole thing as a "media myth."
Jackson also didn't object to a chart detailing different methods of birth control, including their effectiveness and potential side effects.
And she conceded that the story about the pros and cons of teen sex did include cons, including this passage: "It isn't hard to forget the consequences when you walk down the hall and see teens who have gotten pregnant" and that early sex can lead to depression.
But she thought those consequences should have been in the first half of the story rather than the second half. And so many stories about sex in a single issue bothered her as well.
She also thought the pot roast recipe was "smut" and wouldn't let her younger children see the paper.
OK, a lot softer
In hindsight, Lauren Hendrick said if she had it to do over again, "the 'Cooking Corner' would have been a little softer -- a lot softer."
Hendrick, a sophomore and the Pylon's editor-in-chief, said there were several sexual practices she described as "disgusting" that were edited out. But she stands behind the rest of the edition.
Hendrick said the purpose of the articles was to deal with sex, but not the way it's dealt with in sex education classes.
"This is what's talked about in the hallways, it's what's talked about at the lunch table," she said. "I think people were shocked that it was so close to home.
"I think it was easy to pick out parts," such as the exercise benefits of sex, Hendrick said. "We weren't wanting an abstinence-only paper -- you get that in class from fifth grade on. We did address that, too, to have a balanced story.
"We weren't promoting sex. That was never our goal," Hendrick said. Conversely, "it wasn't to take the place of a sex-education class. It was to show how the student body views it."
No getting around it
Some important topics -- such as young people increasingly having oral sex as a substitute for regular sex and thinking they're still practicing abstinence -- can't be dealt with without words some people find shocking, Hendrick said.
"There's no way to sugar-coat some of these things," she said.
Hendrick said she's heard local residents are gathering signatures to try to have journalism teacher and Pylon adviser Jenny Acree fired.
Acree said she, too, has heard from many parents -- including some who were supportive -- and said she expected this issue would generate some controversy.
"It wasn't something we took lightly," Acree said.
Vaughn said he is still looking into the matter.
"We deeply regret the incident and apologize for the offensive nature of the material," Vaughn said. "We are currently looking into our guidelines and procedures for approving material for publication. We understand the importance of balancing freedom of expression for our students with the responsibility of handling controversial issues in an appropriate manner."
That same balance -- and the role of a student newspaper -- is the planned topic for the next edition of the Pylon, due out in two weeks, Hendrick said.
"I think we need to define what a student publication is, what it's audience is, what we are and what we're allowed to write about," she said. "It's important to convey we weren't out to be offensive."
Copyright 2004, The Salina (Kan.) Journal. Reprinted with permission