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School shreds magazine, citing profanity in poem's title
Seattle Times staff reporter
A blank space appearing on page 50 of Shorewood High's annual literary magazine, Imprints, was once filled with a poem about a teenager's first sexual experience.
The 13-line verse was abruptly pulled from this year's magazine after parental complaints about a profane word in its title.
The fallout prompted school and district officials to seize, shred and reprint the issue. They also reassigned the magazine's faculty adviser, a move the teacher is now fighting.
The incident has generated debate, with advocates of the poem calling the incident censorship while Shoreline School District administrators say their decision was appropriate.
The poem My first (expletive)
My first (expletive)
The poem's author, Zoya Raskina, 17, said her verse was about the pressure teenagers face to have sex and the disillusionment that can follow. She said she didn't expect the reaction, which prompted district administrators to ask Steve Kelly, an English teacher with the district for 35 years, to step down as magazine adviser.
The magazine, school newspaper, yearbook and school plays are all considered school-sponsored speech, said Linda Johnson, the district's associate superintendent, who said the poem was not age-appropriate.
The district cites a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the court ruled that schools can censor school-sponsored publications "so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns."
District rules regarding student publications indicate that material must be free of vulgar terms, and "content that ... is inappropriate for the maturity level of the students."
Some 300 copies of the magazine were printed, and about 100 were sold after it became available June 6. Parents began calling, Johnson said, and by week's end administrators had removed the unsold copies and sent them to the printer for shredding.
Lorna Soules, whose daughter Natalie graduated from Shorewood High this year, supports removal of the poem.
"This is not the kind of things we need; we need schools that support healthy living and healthy language, that take a moderate view and help parents raise kids," Soules said. "When I came upon that I said, 'Geez, this is too bad and unfortunate — somebody didn't do their job.' "
The district spent $1,500 to reprint 300 copies, which were made available before the end of the school year.
Kelly, the adviser, referred questions to his attorney, who filed a grievance Thursday asking the school to retain Kelly as adviser.
"All of a sudden, one profane word becomes the Armageddon for Shoreline, which I find amazing," said Donna Lurie of the state teachers union, the Washington Education Association.
The district didn't take action in the past when issues of the magazine contained profanities, she said.
This year's issue included another poem that contained a milder profanity, appearing not in the title but in the body of the poem. That profanity was not edited out in the reprint.
Johnson said she hadn't been aware of such examples and declined to comment further.
Liz Gasperini, 18, the magazine's editor this past year, wrote a letter on behalf of the staff to school and district administrators, arguing that students write fact and fiction, drawing from real-life issues having to do with sex, drugs, violence and death.
"It is not the responsibility of the staff to censor out good writing because there may be a small minority of individuals who object to their children reading something they may deem as too mature for their age," she wrote.
Raskina, meanwhile, said she still planned to enroll in next year's magazine class.
Her father, Vladimir Raskin, thinks the poem raises a genuine issue. "She is a grown-up person," he said. "I told her my opinion that the poem is good, the title is bad."
"It's poetry; some people like it, some people don't," he added. "The problem discussed in the poem is actually relevant and good."
Seung Hwa Hong: 206-464-3347 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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