Mass. principal prevents paper from publishing articles critical of her policies

After refusing to publish the student newspaper until changeswere made to three articles critical of her policies, the principal of SalemHigh School is still declining to run the issue.

The three articles,which were planned for the front page, address the school’s new bans on wearinghats and eating in class as well as the lowered morale of thestudents.

Members of the student newspaper, the Witches Brew, saidin the Dec. 9 edition of The Salem News that they reluctantly agreed tothe changes requested by Principal Ann Papagiotas. The students said Papagiotasinserted explanations for the new policies, writing in one article that food wasbanned from classrooms because of a mouse problem.

Nevertheless, thenewspaper still has not been published despite protest from students on thestaff.

“[The Witches Brew is] the student view,” co-editor ToddGraham told the Salem News . “It’s our voice, and this is what the paperis meant to be.”

Neither Papagiotas nor Superintendent Herb Levine couldbe reached for comment.

However, in The Salem News article, Levinedefended the principal’s decision.

“The school newspaper is strictly andonly in the authority of the school principal,” Levine said. “I believe thatshe’s not only doing the right thing, but she’s doing it the rightway.”

Levine said Papagiotas is not allowing the newspaper to publishbecause some of the opinions in the articles could be qualified as “disruptionor disorder” that might spark arguments and fights.

In 1969, the SupremeCourt ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Districtthat public school authorities are only allowed to regulate student expressionthat materially disrupts the school environment. School authorities cannot basea regulation on the fear of disturbance.

However, in the 1988 SupremeCourt ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kulhmeier, the Court said aschool is permitted editorial control over the content of most school-sponsorednewspapers if school officials can show that it is “reasonably related tolegitimate pedagogical concerns.”

But in 1988, the Massachusettslegislature enacted the Massachusetts student free expression law to providepublic high school student journalists in the state with protection againstcensorship, effectively nullifying the impact the of Hazelwooddecision.

SPLC View: It seems clear that Massachusett’s studentfree expression law was designed specifically to prevent the sort of censorshipnow taking place at Salem High School. In interpreting Tinker’s “disruptionstandard,” which served as a model for the language in the Massachusetts lawthat Salem High School administrators now point to as the basis for theircensorship, courts have required that school officials be able to demonstratethat the speech at issue would create a serious, physical disturbance that wouldinterfere with normal school activities. Given the articles at issue, such ashowing would simply not be possible in this case.