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Ark. school district defends censoring gay student’s coming out story

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
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Taylor Ellis

Taylor Ellis

SHERIDAN, Ark. — The superintendent of an Arkansas school district is defending a decision by school officials to censor a yearbook profile of an openly gay student and his “coming out” story, calling it the “proper direction for our community.”

As we reported Sunday, Taylor Ellis, a junior at Sheridan High School in Sheridam, Ark., was among seven students slated to be profiled in the school’s 2014 yearbook.

In the profile, Ellis, 17, describes his experience in coming out last year, and how most of classmates have been supportive and accepting.

But school officials, citing possible negative repercussions against Ellis, have decided to cancel the profiles for all seven students, even though Ellis and his mother have both approved of the story.

On Tuesday, district officials defended their decision in a statement issued by Superintendent Brenda Haynes:

“We must make decisions that lead in the proper direction for all of our students and for our community. We must not make decisions based on demands by any special interest group. The seven profiles will not be published in the yearbook.

“We have reviewed state law, court cases, and our own policies. It is clear that the adults who have the responsibility for the operation of the District have the obligation to make decisions which are consistent with the mission of our school. We have done so.”

“I personally I do not think there’s a risk of that because everyone in the school already knows. It’s not a secret (that Taylor’s gay),” said Hannah Bruner, assistant editor of the yearbook and who wrote the profile.

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Ellis, 17, said he also doesn’t understand the school’s concerns about publishing his story. “It’s not that big of a deal … It’s just showing other people that it’s OK to be who you are,” he said.

The Student Press Law Center notes that student journalists in Arkansas are protected from most administrative censorship as a result of the Arkansas Student Publications Act.

The law, passed in 1995, requires school boards to adopt student publication policies that recognize that students may exercise their right of expression, and that administrators only censor student publications that are obscene, libelous, constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy or incite students to commit unlawful acts.

The censored profile on Ellis is here.

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