Principal violates Kansas press law; superintendent won't punish censor

KANSAS — A middle school principal violated the Kansas Student Publications Act in December by refusing to distribute about 200 copies of Ellsworth High School’s Bearcat and never received any formal punishment.Two student reporters, Mandy Johnson and Amy Smith, demanded to know why the principal censored the paper. They also fought for their paper’s distribution.After Principal Bob Brock refused to distribute the paper, Johnson and Smith turned to the school administration for help only to find they would not answer any of their questions. They told their story to the Ellsworth community newspaper, parents and school board members. After drawing so much attention to the issue, Superintendent Kent Garhart agreed to allow the students to distribute 250 more copies of the Bearcat if they would drop the matter.The censorship began when Bearcat staff writers delivered papers to Kanapolis Middle School. Included in the paper was a letter to the editor by Josh Svaty about five girls who were caught drinking at Kanapolis. Svaty said he thought the girls should have been kicked off the basketball team, instead of a five-day suspension.Brock read the newspaper and told Johnson he did not want them. Johnson said Brock later told them he threw away the newspapers.By throwing away their work Brock also disregarded the Kansas Student Publications Act, a state law passed in 1992 that protects high school student journalists from censorship by administrators.Garhart said he did not see the need for any discipline of the principal. He thought public humiliation the press was punishment enough for the middle school principal.Dawnae Bunch, faculty adviser for the paper and journalism instructor at the school, said she hoped Garhart would inform his faculty of the law to prevent future censorship attempts.”I have seen nothing but unethical and unprofessional decisions by administrators,” Bunch said.Even though the students got to distribute their papers, Johnson still calls it an “empty victory.”” I hope nothing else comes out of this, and I hope the students get the newspapers,” Johnson said. “That’s all we wanted. I am glad it’s over. A lot of people were fighting, but a lot of other people were upset and blaming me, and it’s not my fault. But if that’s what it takes to get the papers delivered, fine. I’m glad people realize we’re not just stupid high school students.”