Best Of '99: School Demands Parent OK To Read Rolling Stone

Students under 18 need parental permission to peruse rock magazine at Wisconsin high school library.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Thursday, Feb. 11.]

Like high schoolers everywhere, students at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales, Wis.,

need a permission slip from their parents if they want to go on a field trip or participate in

certain sports.

But now they also need one if they want to read a copy of Rolling Stone magazine

in the school library.

Last week, Kettle Moraine School District Superintendent Sarah Jerome ignored a

committee's 8-to-3 recommendation to keep the pop-culture magazine on the library

shelf at the district's only high school, and instead instituted a policy to keep it behind the

checkout counter.

School librarian Mary Finn called the decision "a rude awakening."

Students age 18 and over and teachers can borrow Rolling Stone as they please.

Students under 18 must have a permission slip on file if they want to see the magazine.

"I was extremely pleased when the committee decided in favor of keeping the magazine,

and of course terribly disappointed to see it overturned," Finn, who has pledged to abide

by the decision, said.

"We believed in going through the process and felt that we had a magazine that we felt

we could very easily defend, and then that ended up to not really be the issue," she said.

Veteran school-board member Gary Vose first expressed dismay over the availability of

Rolling Stone to Kettle Moraine's 1,350 students in December 1997. He

described the magazine as "pornographic" after a cover featured cast members of the

"Saturday Night Live" comedy show touching each other's breasts and buttocks.

A Rolling Stone spokesperson did not return a phone call seeking comment

Thursday (Feb. 11).

Since Vose first expressed his concerns, the New York-based biweekly has run covers

with several provocatively clad stars, including model Laetitia Casta, country singer

Shania Twain and, on the latest issue, actress Jennifer Aniston.

Rolling Stone also has featured cover stories on controversial musicians such as

shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, whose latest album, Mechanical Animals, includes

the song "Rock is Dead" (RealAudio

excerpt).

Vose brought a formal written complaint to the superintendent in January, which

triggered a round of four committee hearings this month and Jerome's final ruling Feb. 4.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Maurice Sullivan said he crafted the permission-slip

proposal as a compromise.

"Those who wanted to remove the magazine and those who wanted to retain the

magazine -- those solutions both imposed a consequence on all the students," Sullivan

said. "If you removed it, students wouldn't have access to it. If you retained it, there'd be

certain consequences in terms of ready access to minor youth."

But Sullivan's proposal was voted down, 8-3. The committee — which

includes parents, students, faculty and administrators — then voted

to keep Rolling Stone on the shelves.

It was not an easy decision, said Teri Bergendahl, the only parent on the committee to

vote for removing the magazine. The compromise policy, she said, "gives parental

responsibility its proper place in all of this."

But Finn, a 26-year librarian who has been at Kettle Moraine for 10 years, said Jerome

instituted Sullivan's defeated proposal without even reading the committee's report.

Jerome was unavailable for comment Thursday. Finn said the committee came to its

conclusion last Wednesday, and Jerome issued the new policy the next day. A court

stenographer still hadn't finished preparing the committee's report as of Thursday,

leading to Finn's charge that the superintendent made her decision without consulting

the committee's findings.

Permission letters were sent to parents this week.

The librarian said she has consulted the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties

Union about possible legal action against the district. She said it is illegal for libraries to

bar materials from patrons based on content.

Although there are no plans to treat any other magazines the same way, Sullivan said

the policy could be invoked again.

"No one's filed a complaint," he said. "If they did, we'd follow the process and consider it.

I don't think there's a great hunger to deal with these kinds of matters."

"If it's that easy," Finn said, "why not next look at Glamour, Mademoiselle or

Thrasher, Snowboarder or the swimsuit issue of Sports

Illustrated? There are a lot of magazines that have some controversial

things in them. What's next?"