By Anne Lowe

FREE PRESS – The student newspaper at Willows High School in Glenn County found its first editorial section of the year censored by a principal concerned about potentially explosive inaccuracies, the Sacramento Valley Mirror reports—but only after it had come off the press.

The Honker published a student opinion piece about alleged gang activity on campus in its first edition for the 2010-2011 school year. In the piece, student Andrew Rodrigues claimed that one-third of the student population thought gang activity exists on campus.

Rodrigues also estimated that 10 percent of students were involved in the activity. Marge Ansel, who acts as adviser for The Honker, pressed Rodrigues for his source of information, which he claimed was “the Internet.”

From the Valley Mirror:

Principal Jerry Smith said to the advisor of a student’s article on gangs, “You need to make sure you know where the information comes from. I want him to learn. I do not want that out. I read it as a statement of facts.”

He did not want people to think that, as he said the story said, “one-third” of the campus is involved in Crips and Bloods.

But the portion of Andrew Rodrigues’ column that aggrieved Mrs. Ansel the most was this, under the second “censored” curtain, “The main gangs that have infested our school are: Bloods, Crips, Norteños and Sureños. The Bloods and the Norteños  are representing the color red. The Crips and the Sureños represent the color blue. They are rivals and they have killed many people who have [sic] do not have any connections to gangs in anyway [sic].”

Alerted by Mrs. Ansel, Mr.  Smith read the material, he said, and instructed the Honker advisor  to take out two sections he found offensive.

He said he wasn’t worried about controversy but about inaccuracy.

Inasmuch as that touches on professionalism, he may be on solid ground.

That didn’t happen in layout, and the issue went to press. The unproofed story was sent in, and got pasted up by freshman and sophomore girls. Even Mr. Rodrigues’ name was misspelled.

The copies came back with the offending sections intact and the students pasted two little white squares on the page, with white squares marked, in different hands, “Censored.”

Lesson two, it would have been better, more facile, to dump the press run and start over. People are curious beasts. The little squares beckoned.

So, it didn’t take much diligence for many people to peel away the slips of bond paper.

One non-newspaper supporter of the First Amendment said, “That’s stuff you can read in the Chronicle and the Bee any day."

Valley Mirror editor and publisher Tim Crews pointed to two California Education codes which guarantee public school students the right to free speech: Section 48907 expressly states students are granted the right to exercise freedom of speech within reasonable time, place and manner provisions, and Section 48950 prohibits a school district from enforcing any rule that subjects high school students to disciplinary action related to their exercise of free speech.