Pegasus newspaper flying high after censorship struggle

ALASKA — After half a year of censorship, The Pegasus student newspaper at Chugiak High School has finally secured school support for a free student press.

School administrators regularly censored the newspaper in the fall of 1996, citing a prior review policy that had never previously been applied.

Local media coverage helped the students publish their first uncensored issue of the paper in December, and school district officials began a review of the policy toward publications.

Gretchen Wehmhoff-Stoltze, the paper’s adviser, reported that the school district consulted with lawyers for a recommendation on how to treat the student press.

“Basically it was helpful rather than unhelpful,” Wehmhoff-Stoltze said. “The law firm was supporting freedom of the press. I was really impressed that they took an objective look at Hazelwood.”

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier was a 1988 decision that granted more control over student publications to principals and administrators. But, as Wehmhoff-Stoltze pointed out, it does not allow for arbitrary censorship, something she said many principals think they are legally allowed.

The Pegasus briefly encountered a problem in February when a column criticized the fact that cheerleading qualifies as an official sport at Chugiak. Two teachers had the principal remove the newspaper from people’s mailboxes, but the superintendent overruled the decision and ordered the newspapers returned.

Despite the school district’s progress toward a formal written policy, Wehmhoff-Stoltze said the paper still operates under a prior review policy, but one she can live with. Administrators look over the publication before it goes to the press, but only point out areas of concern rather than censoring.

“The things they catch our helpful,” Wehmhoff-Stoltze said.

“Even though the year had a rough, rocky start, it’s had a real positive ending.”