Staples students speak out on Arkansas controversy

A week ago, at Sheridan High School in Arkansas, school officials censored the school yearbook because of a profile written on an openly gay student, Taylor Ellis. The school demanded that all profiles be removed before the yearbook went to print. Such actions sparked a nationwide debate about freedom of press, gay rights and even human rights.

One student in particular, Hannah Bruner, assistant editor of Sheridan’s yearbook and writer of the controversial profile, took offense at the school’s decision to cut Ellis’s story, and is fighting the ruling, attracting national coverage.

“At first I was angry–mainly because there was no reason for the censorship,” said Bruner. According to her, the school administrators continue to claim it had nothing to do with the fact Ellis is openly gay.

Bruner felt the story was important in order to represent a variety of students in the yearbook. She claimed that administrators’ actions violated students’ constitutional rights and specifically, the Arkansas Student Publication Act.

Superintendent Brenda Haynes of Sheridan schools defended the censorship in a public statement.  “We must make decisions that lead in the proper direction for all of our students and for our community,” she said, and continued on to explain the profiles were censored because they were not consistent with the mission of the school.

Connecticut is some 1300 miles away from Arkansas; however, students at Staples reacted to the situation at Sheridan and cited their disappointment and disapproval. Sofia Weingberg ’15, an openly bi-sexual student and member of the GSA club at Staples. She believes that in such a progressive era, anyone’s story encouraging others to be accepting of themselves should not be dismissed by an administrator.

“It’s absolutely appalling that a young boy’s sexual preference is being undermined and shunned by such an important figure,” Weinberg ’15 said.

Other students had a strong opinion on the amount of media attention the story received.

“I think it’s unfortunate that we still live in a time when one’s sexual orientation is still capable of creating such a sensational story,” said Evan Horowitz ’15. “A school’s yearbook is supposed to be a reflection of that year for all the kids, not a shrine to the vestigial homophobia that still plagues America.”

Arkansas is a state that has not legalized gay marriage and still does not recognize same-sex civil unions or domestic partnerships. This is a clear contrast to Connecticut, which was the third state to legalize gay marriage in America.

Staples High School Principal John Dodig acknowledged that he has worked very hard to foster the type of environment at Staples where everyone can feel safe and secure. Students don’t laugh when they see boys dancing in A Chorus Line, and it is not a big deal for a football player to be in the orchestra playing the cello, Dodig noted.

While this may not be the case in Sheridan, it seems students from both sides of the country have demonstrated a progressive attitude.

Dodig believes what happened was wrong. However, he understood the pressure the principal of Sheridan was under when making the decision. Dodig explained that a public high school is a reflection of the community surrounding it.

“It’s paid for by tax dollars, and in a way you’re held to the morals of that community,” Dodig said.