Halls of Shame, Part 7

We knew it couldn’t last. The school year has gone on a long time without some horse’s ass masquerading as a principal taking a whack at the First Amendment.
But William Orr, principal of Tampa’s Hillsborough High School, managed to step into the gap and earn his position in our Halls of Shame recently.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, the most recent issue of the school paper, Red & Black, has “a gaping hole on page 3” and a note stapled to the each copy saying the missing piece was “deemed inappropriate.”
Mr. Orr, of course, did the deeming.
Was he axing some juvenile humor? No. A sickening invasion of privacy? No. A hideously reported and probably libelous story? No.
Instead, he took a razor to Editor-in-chief Emily Matras’ piece on the sadly dramatic divide between white and minority student achievement on state standardized tests.
According to the St. Petersburg paper, her article “used government-provided numbers on Hillsborough High students” and also mentioned that test scores are linked with income nationally.
The story even quoted Mr. Orr “on the complexities of the issue and the school’s efforts to ‘raise the achievement of all students,'” according to the St. Petersburg Times.
Mr. Orr refused to let it run.
He told a St. Petersburg reporter that the barred news item had “a potential to hurt students’ self-esteem.”
“I don’t think it’s the job of the school newspaper to embarrass the students,” he said.
I suppose, too, that the Red & Black should not report when the school’s athletic teams lose, since God knows that can be embarassing as well.
Mr. Orr seems to have a reality problem. The scores are what they are. Erasing them from print doesn’t change the facts.
And who was he really trying to protect from embarassment? Students? Or the principal whose school isn’t doing well enough in educating minority students?
What’s truly embarassing is not that Hillsborough students have the same test achievement gap that hits too many schools — mostly for reasons beyond the control of educators. It’s that it has a principal without principles.
Mr. Orr, read the First Amendment and ponder what it means. If we can’t tell the truth about what’s going on, whether it’s in Washington or Hillsborough High, then we’re not free.
We’d like to think Mr. Orr’s idea of protecting “self-esteem” by keeping facts at bay doesn’t even begin to approach the proven value of a free press.
So hold your head high, Mr. Orr, and walk proudly through our Halls of Shame. You’ve earned your place.
And to the student journalists at the Red & Black, keep trying!

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Copyright 2006 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.

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