Wyo. principal censors paper’s coverage of student vandalism

WYOMING — A principal who censored a student journalistsaid he was acting to save two students charged with felony vandalismfrom further embarrassment.

Rachel Kildow, editor of Cheyenne East High School’s TheThunderbolt wanted to run a story about two students on theschool speech and debate team who were arrested and charged withvandalizing police cars. The students and one other teen-agerallegedly caused an estimated $12,000 worth of damage to eightlocal police cars in December.

Kildow said that when writer Pat Courtney approached principalSam Mirich about the story, Courtney was told not to write it.Kildow said that the students’ participation in the debate teammotivated the principal’s response, but Mirich disagrees.

"That’s not necessarily true, I was more worried aboutthe individuals," Mirich said. "I didn’t allow the storybecause the two individuals are still in the building. I thinkin a certain sense it would be singling them out and would bemore embarrassment [in addition] to what they’ve already had todeal with, and I didn’t want them to go through that, becausethey’ve already suffered severe consequences for what they did."

But journalism adviser Suzy Quinn said the debate coach approachedher and asked her not to cover the arrests because "the teamhad been hurt enough."

The students’ names had already been published in the WyomingTribune-Eagle, a local newspaper, as well as several newspapersstatewide.

"It upset me, because it was a matter of public record,"Kildow said. "It was going to be a completely unbiased, straightforwardnews story, and [Mirich] censored it without even seeing it."

"We considered the ethics of the situation, you know,just because you can doesn’t mean you should," Kildow said.

Citing a 1988 Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier,which gave administrators wider latitude to review many school-sponsorednewspapers, Kildow said the students considered whether runningthe story would be disruptive to the student body. "We didn’tfeel that it would," she said. "And the principal feltthat it was disruptive to those boys, but I mean we were nevergiven the chance to find that out."

Mirich said he does not usually review copies of the Thunderboltprior to publication, but students occasionally come to him withquestions about the propriety of a story.

"I’ve had students approach me about articles before,and they wanted to know if they were OK to write, or if they werenot OK," he said. "They’re good about having a dialoguewith the administration before they would get into a situationwhere they would write the article."

Quinn said that in this case the students felt they neededto ask the administration for its advice on how to handle thisstory.

After meeting with the principal and talking to a local attorney,Quinn said her journalism students decided not to risk runningthe story. Their decision was also motivated by the fading timelinessof the article, she said. The arrests took place in December andthe first issue of the Thunderbolt came out in February.

"We just kind of made a decision as a group what was thebest thing to do and we just decided that this probably wasn’tworth pursuing," Quinn said.