Issue 70, Summer 1998

Abortion, contraception, homosexuality and masturbation are words that aren’t discussed in New York City’s Community School District 24. The Board adopted a policy in 1987 to delete those words from curriculum materials. “Ask your parents,” is District 24’s pedagogical response to kids’ questions. Now a Board member says the policy is too lenient and wants to ban all mention of those subjects anywhere on school grounds. This is the same district that rejected the “Rainbow Curriculum” in 1992.

Cancellation of concerts by the popular folk-rock artists, Indigo Girls, at high schools in South Carolina and Tennessee, set off a series of protests by students who say that the concerts were canceled because the singers are lesbian. Many students were suspended for protesting. Ironically, the Grammy award-winning Indigo Girls had arranged a free concert tour of high schools to encourage students’ musical interests after they had judged a Scholastic Magazine lyric writing contest. The Indigo Girls rented halls and invited students to attend as their guests. To read NCAC’s press release, click here.

A U.S. appeals court ruled that a St. Louis, MO school district did not violate the First Amendment when it fired teacher Cissy Lacks, for “allowing students to use profanity repetitiously and egregiously in their written work.” Lacks, who once won an award as the nation’s best teacher, had permitted her students to write as they speak in their creative writing classes (Censorship News 64). The decision overturns a jury verdict and award of $750,000 that Lacks’ termination by the school board was not justifiable. The decision may be appealed. NCAC has joined the ACLU in an amicus brief to the US Court of Appeals in support of college students’ press rights (Kincaid v. Gibson). Student journalists sued Kentucky State University for confiscating the college yearbook. The trial court ruled that censorship of student press permitted in public high schools (by the Kuhlmeier v. Hazelwood Supreme Court decision in 1988), allowed for censorship of college and university press as well (CN 68). The amicus brief contends that the lower court mistakenly applied Hazelwood to the college setting.

Reason and the arts prevail in Vermont. Someone raised questions about whether a multimedia work of art by Ed Pepe, scheduled to be shown at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, Vermont would offend “community standards.” Fortunately, the Board of Directors decided to include the pieces and to allow art patrons to judge for themselves. NCAC and others urged this result, noting that art lovers and artists alike rely on galleries to present various artistic visions and artistic forms of social and political expression.

Those arguments have not yet been persuasive in Albany, New York and Auburn, Alabama. Artist Kim Waale was asked to remove part of her sculpture from the New York State Museum’s Biennial Exhibit because they were considered too sexual for “family” viewing. She and three other artists withdrew from the show in protest. And in Auburn University, a student sculpture by artist Jenny Root, Mother/Father, was moved from the main exhibit to a less public space after some administrators called it “inappropriate” for children because of its depiction of nude bodies.