N.M. school suspends students for protesting censorship of student paper

NEWMEXICO — Three student journalists received in-school suspensionsafter they passed out fliers protesting their school’s prior review of thestudent newspaper. Clovis High School’s Purple Press editorMatthew Coker and reporters Jarin Martin and Kerrie Geisler received one-dayin-school suspensions after distributing fliers on April 6 withoutadministrative approval. The students served the in-school suspensionsthis week. Clovis School District lawyer John Kennedy said the studentswere suspended because the fliers contained libelous statements aboutSuperintendent Neil Nuttall.”This is a flier critical of thesuperintendent, calling the superintendent immature and immoral, and that is whythey got a day of ISS,” Kennedy said. The libel claim stems from asentence in the flier that explained why students objected to prior review ofthe student newspaper, Kennedy said. Regarding prior review, the flier stated:”It’s illegal, first off. It’s also immoral and immature.” The fliersprotested Principal Andy Sweet’s reinstatement of prior review of the studentnewspaper. Nuttall told Sweet in late February to demand prior review after herealized that Sweet had suspended the policy this school year, Nuttallsaid.Although the administration practiced prior review for the pastdecade, Sweet made an agreement with yearbook adviser Carol Singletary to ceaseprior review when she was hired as the newspaper adviser, Singletary said.Singletary said students believe the superintendent told Sweet to reviewthe paper because of two news articles in its December issue. The articlesincluded quotations that were critical of a staff dress code policy and thecancellation of a policy on special education student attendancemonitoring.Nuttall said the publication of the attendance and dress codestories and the reinstatement of prior review were unrelated. Nuttall said,however, that the attendance monitoring story raised concerns because the schoolwas being sued over it and the story “exposed the district to confusion aboutthe court case.” Nuttall said the dress code story could have been more balancedby quoting more than one pro-dress code source. When prior reviewed wasreinstated, Sweet censored three stories about teenage sexuality. Afterattending a session on student press rights at the spring Journalism EducationAssociation/ National Scholastic Press Association National High SchoolJournalism Conference in San Diego, students were “fired up” about the school’scensorship, Singletary said. According to the flier, titled”S.P.A.N.C.” for Student Press Against Nuttall’s Censorship, the studentsbelieve the administration’s censorship of the Purple Press was illegal.The flier explained that censorship “hinders us from writing stories you want toread and stops you from knowing about the truth about how Nuttall is running ourschool system.” The flier urged students to contact Nuttall, but notedthat the student journalists “want to keep this out of court.” “If wearen’t allowed to have a student forum covering tough issues, then all we haveis fluff. Fluff is nothing but stories about bunnies and how good the schoolsystem is,” the flier stated. Sweet questioned every Purple Pressstaff member about their involvement with the fliers and then punished thethree students who distributed the fliers, Singletary said. The three studentspunished for passing out fliers are scheduled to meet with Nuttall, and the fourwill create a new student publications policy, she said. The parents ofone of the students who was punished has threatened a lawsuit against theschool, Singletary said.Students declined to be interviewed or could notbe reached for comment.

View the students’ flier here. (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)