A student’s response to censorship

(And the school board wants to censor materials that would be viewed by articulate, thoughtful students like Ana. Promoted by Pete Talbot. Here’s some background, if you haven’t been following this story.)

My First School Board Meeting

By Ana Beard, Hellgate High School Senior

In addition to being a Hellgate High School senior, I am the Editorials Editor for our school newspaper, The Lance. My Senior Project is to raise awareness about discrimination and diversity through the use of journalism. I chose this project after Diversity Week last year, when students wore T-Shirts that said FTQ (F*ck The Queers) and saw no repercussions. This project has opened my eyes to a completely new world.


A year ago, if I had heard about the school board meeting that took place on Jan. 29, 2009, I would have been concerned but not active. Last year the school board ruled memorials unacceptable for school settings because they made it “harder to get past a classmate’s death”. The Lance staff, along with The Halberd staff (yearbook), strongly opposed this decision. However, it never occurred to me to speak up other than to write a column that few administrators even read. This time is different. In the last week I have been affected as a journalist, student, tax payer and community member. With further thought, research, and support from friends and mentors, I learned that I can do more than write a few hundred word story for a high school publication—I can take my argument directly to the school board and if they don’t listen, I can elect a new one.


I spoke up in every class about the meeting and the decision about the “Stuff” video. I tried to start open discussions and encouraged my peers to attend the meeting. I even snuck into Big Sky High School during class one day to reach out to students over there and let them know we cared too. The student turn-out at the meeting was ok, about 15 in total. But the support from the public and my peers who were not present was empowering.


We were all pretty hesitant to stand up and speak first, only two of our group of high schoolers even knew how meetings ran and how to give input. It was a “no, YOU go first” type of situation. The first two community members who spoke gave ME the confidence I needed to get out of my chair and stand in line. It was clear that all the people waiting in line to have their say were there for the same reason (except one guy). That gave me the hope and courage to face a room full of people I didn’t know. I stood, nervous at first, before the board and read a statement I had written earlier. I soon realized I had no reason to be scared. I care strongly about this issue and I knew I had a respectful, very strongly written piece.


I explained the implied censorship the school board’s decision had created. I pointed out that a few students’ and one parent complaint did not justify such a decision. There should have been more student input and the school board should have reached out to classrooms. I confessed that I had watched the video and while I disagreed with some of the points it brought forth, I didn’t feel the need to remove it from schools. I spoke for myself and my peers when I said that our favorite teachers are the ones who push our buttons, inspire us use our minds, and who don’t follow boring text books.


My closing statement, I feel, really hit home with some of the board members (except Rick Johns who was scowling the whole time). “If my generation is the ‘future’, censorship is only setting us up to fail. We are nearly adults and we need to be treated as such. We want our right to a well-rounded education, including exposure to controversial materials and the opportunity to discuss them and form our OWN, INDEPENDENT opinions. Please, I encourage you to overturn this decision.”


My peers had equally important and strong arguments that were presented in a passionate and respectful manner. As I went back to my chair, my friends gave me big smiles and “good jobs”. Each student who spoke and returned to our group got the same support. I can speak for all of us when I say that we felt we had done our part…so far.

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  1. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!

    Ana, I think that you did an excellent job. It really is hard some times to go before a board and testify, but ya just gotta do it, just like you did. It gets easier over time. I have testified many times, and a number of times I even had to tell off the Legislature. They didn’t like what I had to say, but that’s tough. But hey, somebody’s gotta do it. It’s called democracy, and you learned a great lesson in democracy that you don’t learn in the classroom. And that lesson is that sometimes in a democracy ya gotta kick a little ass! Get’s their attention. Keep up the good work.

  2. bonkrood

    Good job, Ana. Thank you for speaking out. Too few people do.

  3. Go Ana! You might think this kind of behavior will end when you leave high school, but believe me: once you’re “officially” an adult, there’s no shortage of other adults who want to control your mind and body. I hope you stay passionate and keep on fighting the good fight!

  4. Ana, you’re going to go far. Stick with it. Good work.

  5. klemz

    “there’s no shortage of other adults who want to control your mind”

    Including some people here if you should later disagree with them.

  6. petetalbot

    klemz, you wouldn’t be referring to Mr. All Inclusive, celebrate diversity, consensus building, me. :) Would you be kind enough to elaborate?

  7. Great work and a great site.

  8. klemz

    No, Pete. I just mean in general. My cynical view is that nobody really gives a damn what kids think; they’re just wonderful political tools.

  9. goof houlihan

    “I chose this project after Diversity Week last year, when students wore T-Shirts that said FTQ (F*ck The Queers) and saw no repercussions”

    Odious speech, no doubt. What repercussions should there have been for students who engaged in such speech?

  10. if the shirts had said F*ck the Niggers, would that have been OK?

    • Evelynnn

      yes, there will always be distastefull speech out there. i dont like people saying such things… but if we refuse to allow them, then … well, where do we draw the line? who gets to decide what is acceptable and what is not? . plus. i think the issue inthis context, was that students were allowed to wear shirts that said “f*ck the queers” , then why was other material censored? there should atleast be a consistant policy.

  11. anabanana2

    No, it wouldn’t have. I brought that up in the column I wrote for the Lance last year. If the shirts had displayed racist slogans like that those students would have been expelled and most likely not excepted into any high school in Missoula.

  12. goof houlihan

    So some censorship is okay, right? And the School Board gets elected to draw the line, right?

  13. anabanana2

    I don’t think the shirts have much to do with censorship. School is supposed to be a safe enviroment for students to learn without fear and without hate. The FTQ shirts made a lot of students uncomfortable and a few even, scared to come to school.

  14. petetalbot

    It’s great to see Ana give Goof a run. She’s right, of course, that there’s a difference between t-shirts with hate messages and a school board censoring science films.

    Guess what, goof, censorship ebbs and evolves. ‘Nigger’ isn’t an acceptable word for most, now, thank god; let’s hope the pejorative ‘queers’ becomes unacceptable, too.

    And I don’t mind a thoughtful, informed school board helping to set policy. We need to question a board that censors films exploring consumerism, the environment and global warming shown in a science class.

  15. goof houlihan

    Then the answer, for you, is, “yes censorship is okay in certain circumstances and for certain subjects”?

    You disagree with where the school board drew the line, not with the idea of censorship.

  16. anabanana2

    Okay, my answer is yes, censorship is okay in a school setting when it comes to one student or staff member intimidating and expressing hate to another.

  1. 1 4&20 blackbirds

    […] a Hellgate High School student, says it more eloquently than […]

  2. 2 When things go right: students speaking up for free speech « Blogging Censorship

    […] 4&20 Blackbirds reprints a student’s statement about the school board meeting called to respond to the board’s decision. Here’s a long excerpt from her very thoughtful piece: A year ago, if I had heard about the school board meeting that took place on Jan. 29, 2009, I would have been concerned but not active. Last year the school board ruled memorials unacceptable for school settings because they made it “harder to get past a classmate’s death”. The Lance staff, along with The Halberd staff (yearbook), strongly opposed this decision. However, it never occurred to me to speak up other than to write a column that few administrators even read. This time is different. In the last week I have been affected as a journalist, student, tax payer and community member. With further thought, research, and support from friends and mentors, I learned that I can do more than write a few hundred word story for a high school publication—I can take my argument directly to the school board and if they don’t listen, I can elect a new one. … […]

  3. 3 Hold on to Your Hats, Readers - We’ve Got a New B’Birder! « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Pete, you might recall, first introduced us to Ana with this post: A student’s response to censorship. […]

  4. 4 Wednesday is Filing Deadline for School Board Open Seat « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] “The Story of Stuff” controversy. (4&20 has a few pieces on the controversy – here and here, for a […]




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