An article on birth control written for a Fairfax County high school newspaper was scheduled to be published yesterday after a delay of nearly one year, during which school officials sought in court to prevent publication.
The Fairfax County School Board decided recently not to appeal a recent federal court decision that upheld the right of the Hayfield Secondary School newspaper, "The Farm News," to print an article on birth control. The school board had maintained that the article's contents conflicted with school rules on sex education.
The board, meeting in a closed session, voted 7-3 not to appeal the Oct. 18 decision by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision clears the way for publication of the artcile titled, "Sexually Active Students Fail to use Contraception."
"I think the majority of the board still believes in the principle behind this case - that a school board should have the ability to exercise some control, within reasonable constitutional limits, over a school newspaper," said school board chairman Rodney Page of the board's decision not to appeal. "But I don't think the majority of the board was willing to test that principle again in this particular case."
"When they send it (the article) to the printers, I'm going along," said Lauren Boyd, former editor of the Farm News and author of the controversial article that discussed forms of contraception and where to purchase contraceptive devices. "I want to be there to see it finally go through. Nobody ever thought it would take so long."
Boyd and Gina Gambino, former assistant editor of the Farm News, graduated from Hayfield Secondary school this year. The article was scheduled to be printed yesterday in the Farm News, according to faculty advisor Stuart Hill, but the paper will not be distributed to students until Monday because of student holidays today and Friday.
"It's time we drew an end to this episode," Hill said. "We're all ready for the article to go ahead."
Hayfield Secondary School principal Doris Torrice blocked publication of the article last November on the grounds it was contrary to the schools' proposed sex education program.
When school Supt. S. John Davis and the school board upheld her decision, a suit was filed on behalf of Boyd and Gambino, charging that they were deprived of their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Page said the opinion of the school board majority concerning the case was expressed by Judge Donald S. Russell, who disagreed with the other two judges on the three-member panel of the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit upheld a decision last February by U.S. District Court Judge Albert V. Bryan in Alexandria that said" . . . the newspaper is not in reality a part of the school and . . . is entitled to first amendment protection."
Russell, in contrast, said a secondary school administration has "a perfect legal right" to determine whether information on methods of contraception should be included in the school curriculum.
". . By the same token it would seem equally clear it (the school administration) would not be required to wink at the same material taught in a backhanded way through the columns of a school paper, sponsored and largely financed by it," Russell's dissent said.
Chris Fager of the Student Press Law Center, which helped represent the students, said the Fourth Circuit decision "sets an important precedent."
"For the first time a court said that just because a school provides some of the money for a student publication, that doesn't mean it can control what is said in that publication," Fager said.
"This decision saves a lot of cases from having to be brought before the courts."