blog: School press is place to learn freedom, not censorship
Three high school student editors in a Washington school district have formed a coalition to ask the school board to pass a student publication policy that prohibits prior review.
The group’s creation stems from current prior review policies within the Puyallup School District in which content deemed inappropriate or controversial may be censored and omitted from the final edition.
This policy was applied to the February 2008 issue of the JagWire, a student newspaper at Emerald Ridge High School, where an article about oral sex was omitted. In its place, and in the place of other rejected stories, the phrase, “This story has been censored” was printed.
Student journalists and editors are currently in conference with school officials and are attempting to negotiate a new policy that does not allow administrators to edit the JagWire and similar publications.
Amanda Wyma, an editor the newspaper, says that the establishment of the new policy would give them “the chance to cover the things that really matter.”
School administrators agree that a negotiation is necessary and whatever is decided will be implemented before the start of the next school year. However, administrators are calling for the students and their families to accept full financial responsibility of the newspaper, thus creating an open forum. This arrangement will exempt the publication from prior restraint allowances offered through precedent from the 1988 student press case, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.
The Hazelwood case involving censorship of a student newspaper said that as long as the school funds a student publication, the publication does not qualify as a public forum and is thus subject to administrator censorship. In removing financial accountability from the school and the school district, student editors have freedom to decide what is to be published.
Brad Van Alstyne, chair of the Dominican University Department of Communication and Media Studies, tends to side with Emerald Ridge High School administrators.
“As an administrator of a school with a newspaper, I would advocate for a prior review policy, even though I believe that it does take [out] the spontaneity, and in some cases the freedom from the press, he said. “I tend toerr on the side of caution.”
The censorship of student publications is controversial. While administrators have the right to review information in a publication produced on school grounds with school funds, the lack of student decision-making takes away from the educational experience and the lack of student journalist input in the censorship of their stories only serves to alienate newspaper staffs and produce animosity between students and district officials.
Not to mention, the censorship itself does not provide an avenue for students to express their views on local and world issues as potentially controversial topics are barred from final publication.
While censorship policies are aimed at preventing backlash from the public over the news itself or the treatment of news issues, censoring student publications omits a substantial viewpoint from the market.
Student journalists are not only educating the school population on popular opinion and controversial issues but are also learning how to best appeal to an audience on potentially touchy topics.
If the school can relinquish fiscal responsibility, student journalists will be given the proper freedom to express their opinions and report on the issues that matter to the student body. By requiring parental financial liability to negate prior review policies, administrators are not allowing students to learn how to effectively communicate and express their opinions on community and world issues in an environment where journalistic accountability is lessened.
The elimination of a learning environment for journalism students is unfair for it does not give these students an opportunity to learn to write for a publication. Assuming that scholastic settings are for education, it is the school’s responsibility to provide its students with the opportunity to learn without their opinions being eliminated.
Communication & Media Studies