High school officials roast student papers

Though some say respect for the First Amendment is making a comeback,student journalists, administrators and advisers are still working to find thebalance between students’ free-speech rights and schools’responsibilities. The majority of Americans do not think the FirstAmendment goes too far in protecting the rights of Americans, according to asurvey released in June by the First Amendment Center in collaboration with theAmerican Journalism Review. Poll results show, however, that they aredissatisfied with the amount of freedom of expression that high school studentshave — and the student journalists who have been in the forefronts ofcensorship battles this summer would likely agree. Students havespent hours cutting a controversial political cartoon out of a newspaper. Othersorganized a benefit concert to independently finance an issue of their studentnewspaper. And two more students delayed distribution of an editorial that wasrejected from the school’s newspaper while school board members crafted aprior review policy.While only 15 percent of those who responded to thenational survey think students like these have too much freedom, almostone-third of respondents believe they have too little freedom.At aRhode Island high school, students worried about administrative backlashdecided to cut out a political cartoon from 2,500 copies of the Bird’sEye View newspaper in May before distributing it to students.Thecartoon poked fun at the school district’s superintendent, presenting himas superhero who could fix leaky roofs, remove asbestos and remedy electricalproblems. The cartoon was a response to ongoing delays in the school’sauditorium renovation.Cumberland High School teacher and newspaperadviser Nancy Dandurand showed the cartoon to Principal Stephen Driscoll eventhough the district did not have a prior review policy. He then asked her not toprint it, she said.Though Dandurand explained to students their rights,she wanted the staff to make the decision.They voted to cut the cartoon,mostly because they did not want the issue to be confiscated or Dandurand tolose her job, editor Tessa Tomassini said. “We wanted to do whatwas best for the paper,” she said.The noticeable hole on thebottom corner of Page 3 prompted questions from many at the school. Teachersfocused lessons around First Amendment rights during the week after the paperwas distributed, Dandurand said.Student journalists in New Yorkdecided they would still put out their final issue of the year as an independentpublication after the adviser cancelled the issue as punishment for twoeditors’ “poor” decision.In the May issue of IthacaHigh School’s The Tattler, editors published a mock personal adthat had been submitted anonymously to the newspaper. The adviser,Stephanie Vinch, did not see the advertisement before publication, as is hernormal practice, and suspected students might have intentionally sneaked it pasther, editor Adrienne Clermont said.But rather then waste the articlesstudents had already been working on, about 25 students decided to put out thepaper by themselves. They raised $300 for the issue with a fund-raising concertand advertising sales, and they used their home computers to edit and design thepaper. On June 9, The June Issue, a clearly marked 20-page,one-time-only independent publication, was distributed to students.In aneditorial about the decision, the cancellation is called “a dangerousprecedent for the freedom of the press at Ithaca HighSchool.”“Know that this paper is proof that a group ofstudents can join together and make something despite an uncooperativeadministration,” it read further. “It was partly a labor of love;but more importantly, it was a labor of necessity.”And in aVirginia school district, students who wish to distributenonschool-sponsored publications on school grounds will now have to submit themfor review by a school administrator.In May, three Blacksburg HighSchool students attempted to distribute an editorial that was cut from theschool’s newspaper, the Ink Wave. They agreed to postponedistribution until the district could clarify the policy for nonschool-sponsoredpublications. The Montgomery County School Board approved a policy thatincludes prior review by the principal and an appeals process that gives schoolboard members final say.“The policy merely states what the law is,and the purpose of the policy was to give principals some guidance on what thelaw is,” said W. Wat Hopkins, a school board member and communicationsprofessor at Virginia Tech University. Hopkins said the policy followsthe standard for censorship of student expression created from the 1969 SupremeCourt decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community SchoolDistrict, which states that administrators can only prohibit material thatwould prevent normal and routine conduct of classes or creates a significantlikelihood of harm to people or property.The policy also prohibitsdistribution of material that is libelous, obscene or advocates criminal actsunder federal, state or local laws. Hopkins said that if the policy hadbeen in place before the three students tried to pass out the editorial, theeditorial would have been approved for distribution.