OHIO — It all happened rather quickly. One day the student newspaperwas distributed, the next day it was suspended, and six eventful days later,it was returned to the students.
While some might laud the return of the Walnut Hills High School studentpaper as a victory for the student press, staff members are not so readyto claim success.
Philip Ewing, co-editor of The Chatterbox, called it a “limitedvictory.” Although the principal gave the newspaper back to the students,he also implemented a new set of rules that would give him “a way to censorus,” Ewing said.
The struggle started in March when Walnut Hills principal Marvin O.Koenig suspended the student newspaper because of a column and a cartoonfeatured on the humor page in the March 15 issue that poked fun at theassistant principal.
The column, written by humor page editor Sean Krebs, criticized schooladministrators for holding Saturday school, a form of detention for skippingclass that requires students to report to school on Saturdays. The cartoonshowed assistant principal Gerald Houghton, depicted as the “Two-Face”character from Batman, handing out a detention slip.
The day after distributing the newspaper, Koenig sent a memo to thenewspaper staff saying he was suspending all publication of The Chatterbox“until a future time when my confidence may be restored in the judgmentof the Chatterbox’s student leadership.”
Following the suspension, staff members met with Koenig, who explainedhis reasons for suspending the newspaper.Days later, what started off as an issue between the principal andthe staff became an issue for the entire student body.
A week after the March 15 issue was distributed, an estimated 125 studentsat Walnut Hills staged a walkout. According to co-editor Diana Claybon,students gathered outside the school holding signs demanding free-speechrights and the return of The Chatterbox. One student climbed a treeand refused to come down until the suspension of the newspaper was lifted,Claybon said.
Claybon, who insists the staff had nothing to do with the walkout, saidshe was shocked when she saw it.
“We just freaked out,” Claybon said. “It was nothing we knew about,and it was nothing we organized. But we appreciated the support.”
Following the walkout, Koenig agreed to meet with the staff, at whichtime he returned the newspaper to the students.
The celebration was short-lived.
In a March 26 memo, Koenig informed the students that he will requirethe newspaper adviser to read and approve the newspaper’s content beforeit is published.
“I don’t believe my role is to censor a school publication,” Koenigsaid. “I think that the role of the staff and the adviser is to use goodjudgment on what they are putting into a school newspaper.”
Ewing said Koenig is being hypocritical.
“It is really underhanded,” Ewing said. “He and his lackeys at the schoolpay a lot of lip service to the First Amendment, to our constitutionalrights and to freedom of speech, but when it came down to the wire, they’vegone completely in the opposite direction.”
Ewing added that staff members are not sure of their next step but saidthey will definitely continue the fight.
“I firmly and unequivocally believe in freedom of speech,” Ewing said.”I believe it applies to everyone in our society and that no one shouldbe put in the position of being allowed to curtail it. When you take itaway, you take away a lot more, and you realize that all the high-mindedideals that we live under and our teachers espouse can just become platitudes.”