Missouri judge orders boys involved in fatal car crash to write letters of apology to student newspapers

Agreeing to a court’s request, two high school newspapers in the Independence School District published letters of apology in February that were written by students involved in a girl’s death.

The Envoy at William Chrisman High School and The Spirit of 2001 at Truman High School agreed to print the letters after a judge ordered Brad Cook, a junior at Truman, and Adam Vader, a junior at Chrisman, to write letters of apology as part of their punishment for their involvement in a driving accident in September, which claimed the life of Mistyka Fielder, a junior at Truman.

According to Ron Clemons, The Spirit of 2001 adviser, and Christy Little, The Envoy adviser, neither publication staff initially wanted to print the letters.

According to Little, The Envoy staff disapproved of publishing the letter because they thought they were being ordered to print it after a meeting with the principal, who expressed his desire to go along with the court’s request.

“He never said they had to print the letter, he just said he wanted them to,” Little said. “The students calmed down and felt comfortable with printing the letter when they realized it wasn’t so much an order.”

Both newspaper staffs finally agreed to publish the letters after getting approval from the students and their families.

In addition to writing the letters of apology, the two boys, both juveniles at the time of the accident, were sentenced to house arrest until March 15, 500 hours of community service and the revocation of driving privileges until the age of 21.

SPLC SENSE: One can hope that “creative sentencing” involving student media will not become a widespread practice. There are clear First Amendment problems associated with ordering news media, student or otherwise, to publish material in its pages. The student staffs in this case decided the letters were newsworthy and voluntarily decided to publish them, thus avoiding what could have been a messy legal battle