School board remorseful after censorsing biting student editorial

ILLINOIS– A school board apologized Monday for halting distribution ofthe student newspaper at Huntley High School and gave students the OK to passout the paper, which contained an editorial critical of a school boardmember.

The delay resulted from a school board member who caught windlast Wednesday that an unflattering editorial about him would run inFriday’s edition of the Voice.

In hindsight, putting a hold on distribution because of one schoolboard member’s complaints was a bad idea, District 158Interim-Superintendent Robert Hammon said.

This issue of theVoice will be old news by the timestudents read the paper when they return from spring break next week. A localnewspaper, the Northwest Herald, ranthe editorial on Friday along with a story about the censorship.

Thestudent editorial questioned why Larry Snow, a board member in District 158, wasspeaking out against a tax referendum in neighboring District 300.

The editorial states, ”We need your focus, Mr. Snow, to be onDistrict 158 in putting programs back together and solving problemshere.”

The ordeal began last Wednesday when Snow called him andasked him to block the editorial from printing, Hammon said.

He saidhe let the paper print the editorial, but he, along with the principal, decidednot to let the students distribute the paper on Friday. So 1,500 copies of theVoice spent the weekend at the house ofstudent editor Jake Sanches.

”It’s something that nevershould have happened,” Sanches told a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, which also covered the story.

Hammon said Snow insisted on having a board meeting to discusswhether the editorial should be allowed to appear in the paper.

Snowtold the Northwest Herald, ”Itappears to me as if the school newspaper does not have the right of politicalfree speech. [Students] have a right to write a letter to the editor…or tostand on the street corner with signs. Do they have the legal right to do itpaid by taxpayers?”

At the Monday morning meeting the boardvoted to allow the distribution of the paper and apologized to the studentjournalists.

But Snow tells a different story.

He said he never protested the content of the editorial.

”The currenteditorial met all the standards. There was never a reason for it to be held. Nowthey bring up this free speech and frame me as a censor,” Snow said.

Snow said that after several parents phoned him last week aboutthe editorial, he was concerned that the content of the editorial might befalse.

But after he saw the editorial when it ran in theNorthwest Herald, he said ”therewas really nothing wrong with the editorial,” and the criticism was tamecompared to flack he has received in the past.

Snow said he came toMonday’s meeting and announced that not only did he support distributingthe paper, but also he made a motion for the student newspaper to have

”complete free speech.” Under current district guidelines,”school authorities may edit or delete material that is inconsistent withthe school mission,” Snow said.

”He tried to take all thequestions and control the situation,” Hammon said of Snow’s behaviorat the meeting. ”He tried to expand it into free speech and freedom of thepress.”

No board members seconded that motion, Snow said.

Both Snow and Hammon said a student newspaper should”absolutely” have the freedom to criticize public officials.