October 30, 2004 in Idaho

‘Uncensored’ Web site stirs up Post Falls High

Taryn Brodwater Staff writer
 
Kathy Plonka photo

Holly Bowen, left, and Nadia Aikins, seniors at Post Falls High School, work on the Web site Post Falls Uncensored.
(Full-size photo)

Holly Bowen decided to start an underground Web site earlier this year after her school newspaper didn’t report on a story that both local newspapers did: an openly gay student dropped out of Post Falls High after he was reportedly harassed by other students.

“I noticed the school paper was ignoring some of the less-prestigious issues,” said Bowen, a 17-year-old Post Falls senior.

She created Post Falls Uncensored as an outlet for students with opinions that she felt wouldn’t make it into print in the school’s student paper, the Trojan Times. While the Trojan Times has articles with headlines like “Spirit sweeps Post Falls High School” and “Respected teacher leaves PFHS,” Post Falls Uncensored’s topics are more controversial.

One article on Bowen’s site, titled “Trained Monkey Week, I Mean Homecoming,” is satire on the traditions of homecoming week. The site also includes an article, “Pointless Internet Filters,” with tips on how to access sites the administration has blocked, including Bowen’s Post Falls Uncensored.

Principal John Billetz said Post Falls Uncensored is one of several sites that are blocked from school computers.

“Students should not be able to access that anyway when they’re here,” Billetz said. “The reason we (blocked access) is because it would pique interest. We want kids more interested here in educational research on our computers.”

Assistant Superintendent Becky Ford said the district also has a responsibility to protect students. Because the Web site is uncensored, Ford said there might be postings or articles that could cause problems.

“We respect the students’ rights of freedom of speech,” Ford said. “My hope is that the freedom of speech is never exercised at the expense of others’ freedoms and rights and safety.”

Bowen said the Web site was up for weeks before administrators took notice. That’s when fliers advertising the site (www.geoci ties.com/postfallsuncensored) began appearing in school hallways. Ford said the flier she saw was “distasteful.”

According to Bowen, she and others on the Post Falls Uncensored staff had nothing to do with the flier. Bowen – who Wednesday was wearing a homemade shirt with the words “School Appropriate Design” – said the flier had a picture of Billetz’s face with a drawn-on mustache and devil horns.

Until the fliers were posted, all involved in the site were anonymous. School administrators began calling students into the office trying to find out who was responsible for the underground site.

As students speculated who might be involved, Kasey O’Brien’s name kept coming up. The senior is politically active and attended the Democratic National Convention.

Although O’Brien wasn’t involved, she told administrators she had visited the site and knew who was writing the articles, but wouldn’t divulge their names, said her father, Dave O’Brien, who has visited the site himself.

“As a parent, it’s kind of neat to see some diversity in thought at the school,” O’Brien said. He said he was alarmed when he saw the banner on the site that read, “Now blocked from student-accessible computers!” and hoped administrators weren’t trying to “suppress some diversity in thought and freedom of speech.”

Bowen said she told administrators that the Web site was hers when they called her into the office. She said they were concerned about an area of the site where students could post messages or gossip.

Afterward, Bowen said, she made the message area more secure, restricting access to only those who have a password so administrators “can’t snoop.” She also added a disclaimer stating the site is not affiliated with or sponsored by the school.

Nadia Aikins, another senior and writer for Post Falls Uncensored, said the site is a place where students can air their views without fear of other students attacking them.

“It’s anonymous if they want it to be,” she said.

The site also has cartoons, event listings and quotes overheard at the school.

Aikins’ mother, Bonnie Harris, said she’s impressed with the Web site and proud of the students.

“I did what rebel stuff I could in my day,” Harris said. “It makes me happy to see there are still kids out there thinking for themselves.”

Bowen’s father, Bob Bowen, supports his daughter’s Web site.

“She’s expressing herself, and she’s thinking,” he said.

Billetz has visited the site a couple of times.

“I’m concerned about kids writing things about other students or staff members that could create harm or animosity or could, to a larger extent, put kids in danger,” he said. He said school officials asked Bowen and others involved to be careful.

He said not every student appreciates the site. In fact, students who came to administrators with the names of students who might be involved, he said.

Bowen said she gets comments every day from students who like the site. She received a negative comment, too, and said she told the writer she would post his opinion.

“I’m not going to silence any voice,” she said.


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