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District Orders Hoover High to Drop Condom Ad

April 23, 1987|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writer

Fearing complaints from parents, Glendale School Supt. Robert Sanchis has ordered a public service advertisement, which promoted condoms as protection from AIDS, removed from the Friday edition of Hoover High School's student newspaper.

Sexually related advertising in a high school student publication "must be evaluated for its suitability to the majority of its student readership, and to the parents and other members of the community also reading the newspaper," Sanchis said in a written statement issued Tuesday afternoon.

The advertisement--timed to appear just before the upcoming school prom--was scheduled to appear on page 3 of the Purple Press, said Diane Bell, Hoover High School journalism adviser. But on Tuesday morning, Hoover High School Principal Don Duncan, who the day before called the ad "a good idea," told Bell and her journalism class that the superintendent did not want it to appear.

No papers had been printed.

The district action marks the first time in recent years that Glendale school administrators have censored a high school paper, Bell said. "I am disappointed," she said. "I thought the ad was very valuable. Teen-agers know what sex is and they engage in it."

She referred to the final paragraph in the ad, which read: "Today, keeping the young people in the dark could literally cost them their lives."

The advertisement would have been the first of its kind to appear in a Glendale school newspaper. Several journalism teachers contacted by The Times said they had not heard of condom ads appearing in any California high school publication.

The advertisement featured in bold print the word "condom," broken into two syllables as it appears in the dictionary. It included a quiz asking readers to check off one of four definitions:

" Large vulture of the southwestern United States.

Building where Yuppies live.

Popular sailing port in Maine.

Thin protective sheath for the penis, usually of rubber, used to prevent venereal infection or as a contraceptive."

Beneath the quiz was text explaining how condoms help prevent the spread of the deadly acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

The message was adapted from a Planned Parenthood flyer that included information about pregnancy prevention. However, the Hoover students deleted all references to birth control and to the family planning organization, opting only for information addressing how condoms can help prevent the spread of the AIDS, said Jacqueline Safavian, a Hoover High junior and advertising manager for the Purple Press.

"We wanted to hit more or less on the sexually transmitted disease aspect," the 16-year-old student said. "We wanted to save it for right before the prom. We wanted to make people aware."

The senior prom is scheduled to be held May 2.

"The kids seemed to think it was a pretty appropriate time," to run the ad, said Bell. "As much as we hate to admit it . . . prom night is for a lot of people a night at a motel. It's a good time for people to remember to be cautious."

District officials said that after receiving news media inquiries about the ad they became worried about the controversy it could generate.

Vic Pallos, a school district spokesman, confirmed that school authorities were concerned about offending parents. He said administrators "need some time to look at the issue," adding that a decision would probably come some time next year after recently-developed state guidelines on AIDS education are adopted by the district.

Bell, the journalism adviser, said such a delay is unwarranted.

She said Duncan, the principal, "apparently got a little bit nervous about the publicity surrounding the ad and thought he should talk to the superintendent. The superintendent talked to the school board . . . The school board was nervous. They don't like to acknowledge the fact that teen-agers have sex . . . They would rather pretend that our kids are all pure and innocent."

The issue arose this week after Safavian, the student ad manager, informed The Los Angeles Times and several other newspapers of the pending advertisement. Anticipating a "mixed reaction" from students and parents alike, Bell and Safavian discussed the ad with Duncan, who approved it.

In an interview with The Times on Monday, Duncan said running the message was "the right kind of thing to do."

"The surgeon general is advocating that kind of material be dispensed around the country."

On Tuesday, however, Duncan telephoned The Times to say the advertisement would not run after all, while school board members consider the issue. "The reason behind it is they want to look at their overall policy in regards to this and other ads," he said.

California state law allows school districts to censor student publications containing "obscene, libelous or slanderous" statements or material that would cause "substantial disruption" of school operations. Duncan did not cite the law in banning the ad.

"I don't think condom ads fit into any of those categories," said Mark Goodman, director of the nonprofit Student Press Law Center in Washington. "The courts have made it fairly clear that student publications are protected by the First Amendment. As a result school officials are limited."

Bell agreed, but said she and the students have decided--for now--to abide by the district's request.

"I could envision maybe challenging them sometime in the future, but not before we've gone through all the channels. And that's not something you can do overnight."

Meanwhile, she said, the students may replace the AIDS message with an an editorial blasting the district decision.

"But," said Bell, "This time I'm not going to be stupid enough to ask if I can print an article about it."

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