Illinois principal destroys entire issue of student newspaper because of ‘alarmist’ content; staff publishes off-campus on Internet

An award-winning high school newspaper’s latest issue on school violence was intended to provoke discussion, but the principal destroyed every copy before they could be distributed, calling its content “alarmist.”

The April 20 issue of Hinsdale Central High School’s student newspaper, The Devil’s Advocate, contained a feature story entitled “Scared of School” that included opinions from students and parents on the school’s safety and the security measures the school has taken, as well as an editorial urging students to take responsibility for their school’s safety.

But Hinsdale students never saw the issue because principal Jim Ferguson confiscated and destroyed the entire issue. Ferguson told the local newspaper, The Doings, that he had already met with editors twice “to reduce the alarmist nature of the package,” but the student editorial board voted unanimously against changing the issue’s content.

The board issued a statement saying that censorship will only exacerbate the problem of violence in schools.

“By not discussion difficult topics, the school only suppresses students’ thoughts and feelings, making the atmosphere even less tolerant,” the statement said. “If we had any reservations about the content of our work or thought that it would endanger students in the school, we would not have run the story.”

The students have published the issue on a Web site independent of the school, and Ferguson has said he will not attempt to interfere with the site.

SPLC View: The principal called the story on school violence “alarmist.” A local newspaper columnist described it as “fair,” “thorough” and “straightforward,” sentiments with which we, having also read the piece, would concur. What makes this story unique, however, is that the students (acting on their own) responded to the censorship by simply taking the story to an off-campus Web site where, thanks to local media attention, it was read by thousands more than would normally have seen it. The principal said he would not attempt to interfere with the off-campus Web site. In fact, he couldn