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Jason Rantz

Tacoma school chooses censorship over controversy in pro-life poster flap

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This poster is among several by a pro-life group prohibited by a Tacoma high school, prompting a controversy over alleged censorship. | Zoom
I brought to you a story last week of a pro life group at Tacoma's Wilson High School.

The allegation coming from both this advocacy group, the Thomas More Society and the president of a pro-life student group, a freshman named Bryce, basically said they tried to put up posters of content that the school deemed controversial. They said the school prevented them from putting them up.

The school on the other hand said no, actually the posters not only were put up, we only took them down because they didn't go through the proper process. We didn't censor anything. In fact, if they went through the process the posters would have been signed off on and put up on the board

So there was clearly a little bit of a miscommunication. You have two sides saying something so completely different. In all honesty, I leaned in the direction of the student because I am especially hypersensitive to schools, whether it's a high school or college, that may do something that could infringe on the rights of students, especially free speech rights.

I've seen that abused so much not just in reading the news sites, not just being involved in the student press law center, but because I personally experienced it when I went to college. So I am hypersensitive.

And so I gave the benefit of the doubt more so to the student than I did to the school. But I acknowledged we're talking about a freshman in high school and it's certainly possible that he misunderstood things

And so I promised you that I would continue to follow up on this story. And it turns out, according to the school's general counsel Shannon McMinimee, they've come to a resolution. They met with the student, with his parent, the assistant principal and representatives of the school and they hashed out some of their differences. They acknowledged they weren't on the same page as far as what facts are considered facts and what facts are really just perceptions of what happened, but hey we came to terms.

"The administration has decided to adopt new policy because of all the disruption that has occurred in the last week," she said, "and that is from henceforward all non-curricular ASB club posters are going to be limited to identifying the name of the group, the date, time and location of meetings and events, and there's not going to be any symbols or slogans allowed for any group's posters to insure that there's still an opportunity for students to advertise to their fellow students when meetings and events are, but without the potential for disruption that has occurred this week and without the potential for asking our administration to spend an awful lot of time reviewing each and every poster or flyer request by every student group."

McMinimee is arguing the teachers and administrators should spend their time and energy on teaching rather than dealing with any of the controversy. She argued their primary job should be as instructional leaders looking at the education teachers are delivering, not to be the arbiter of student speech and everything else.

"And unfortunately, because of how this issue ended up taking up so much of their time it just became the most reasonable solution to either eliminate all posters altogether for non-curricular groups or come up with a much more straightforward, clear, this is all that's going to be allowed," she said.

It's very interesting because she says that it's not the school's job to become the arbiters of student speech. And she's absolutely right. But here's the thing. You've just become the ultimate arbiter of student speech because now they're saying they cannot engage in certain types of speech within the school grounds.

This idea that they spent so much time having to deal with this? They didn't spend all that much time because the story broke last week. But here's the thing. They spent time on something that could have led to a teachable moment to better instruct students on their rights to free speech, because they have rights to free speech regardless of what any attorney will tell you.

They way that they handled this whole incident by choosing to give students less access to speech than more, it's troublesome. It's the equivalent of finding drugs in the locker and getting rid of all the lockers in the high school rather than addressing the actual issue.

We've effectively said to kids we are no longer going to expose you to different viewpoints. You cannot put up that poster that promotes pro-gay marriage. You cannot put up that poster that promotes pro-life.

Shouldn't we be promoting diversity of opinions in high school? Shouldn't we be encouraging kids to put up posters of some of their beliefs and engaging in meaningful, civil conversation?

Because some kid is going to walk past one of those posters that is maybe pro-life, or pro-choice or pro-gay marriage or anti-gay marriage, you know what they're going to do? They're going to start thinking about the issue. And then they start talking about it. And then they have a dialogue, which is what we're supposed to be promoting in school. Not telling kids we don't want you to have these conversations with one another because someone might be offended. It might be controversial. That's the wrong message to send.

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