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‘Nothing like this has ever happened,’ SLO High student editor says of letter controversy

Protest at SLO High after anti-gay letter published in school newspaper

Michelle Call, a San Luis Obispo parent with a daughter in seventh grade, says about 50 people protested at San Luis Obispo High School on Thursday, May 11, 2017, after a teacher wrote a letter to the school newspaper in opposition to an issue foc
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Michelle Call, a San Luis Obispo parent with a daughter in seventh grade, says about 50 people protested at San Luis Obispo High School on Thursday, May 11, 2017, after a teacher wrote a letter to the school newspaper in opposition to an issue foc

The student newspaper staff at San Luis Obispo High School published an anti-gay letter to the editor from teacher Michael Stack online Tuesday because they wanted a diverse range of opinions, even if they didn’t agree with its message, according to the newspaper’s opinion page editor.

The decision to publish the controversial letter that condemned gay acts as sinful and quoted a Bible passage saying homosexuals “deserve to die” has sparked widespread community reaction and outrage over the past few days.

Luca MacDougall, opinion editor of SLO Expressions, said the staff’s general policy is to publish all letters to the editor that are submitted except for those that are obscene or contain profane content. Staffers also edit for grammar, he said.

“We generally publish all letters to the editor, regardless of the opinion,” MacDougall said.

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MacDougall added that Stack’s letter, which appears on the newspaper’s website, is not “what most people on the newspaper staff think” or agree with.

Stack resigned from his first year as a teacher on Thursday in the wake of community opposition to his letter. He held a probationary position as a special education teacher. The school board, on the recommendation of the principal, had already decided against rehiring Stack for the next school year, before his letter was published.

We generally publish all letters to the editor, regardless of the opinion.

Luca MacDougal, San Luis Obispo High School Expressions online editor

His letter was in response to the May issue of SLO Expressions that included three articles focused on LGBTQ issues and featured a cover photo of two girls kissing.

MacDougall said he expected a public reaction to the letter within the school, but he didn’t anticipate the level of response from the community. The letter has sparked a flurry of public discourse in online forums, a public protest near the school campus and media coverage.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” MacDougall said.

He said he believes that campus faculty and staff are generally supportive of the LGBTQ community and that Stack’s view is an anomaly.

Scott Nairne, the newspaper’s adviser, said he has been grateful “for the administration’s full support of the paper and of me as a teacher. They haven’t wavered one bit.”

Some people have said that Mr. Stack’s letter constitutes a ‘true threat’ and thus is not protected under the First Amendment. However, to be a ‘true threat,’ the speech must be reasonably foreseeable as a serious expression of intent to harm or assault. There is no evidence for this claim.

SLO Coastal Superintendent Eric Prater and SLO High Principal Leslie O’Connor in a statement

In a statement released Friday, Superintendent Eric Prater and SLO High Principal Leslie O’Connor said O’Connor will continue to reach out to the LGBTQ community to address “social and emotional well-being.”

They wrote that they didn’t attempt to regulate the contents of the letter, which is an editorial decision of the student publication, and wouldn’t do so “as a matter of taste or pedagogy.”

“Some people have said that Mr. Stack’s letter constitutes a ‘true threat’ and thus is not protected under the First Amendment,” they wrote. “However, to be a ‘true threat,’ the speech must be reasonably foreseeable as a serious expression of intent to harm or assault. There is no evidence for this claim.”

SLO Expressions’ student leadership met Friday, in consultation with Nairne, to consider removing Stack’s letter from the website but said they haven’t reached a final decision. They did put a disclaimer on the letter, however, saying the views are his personal opinion.

Future letters will include the same disclaimer, stating that the writer’s views don’t represent the opinions of the school board, district or newspaper.

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