Florida high school principal delays newspaper to discuss articles with students

FLORIDA — An issue of the Deltona High School student newspaper was delayed by an administrator in October, leaving student journalists to learn about prior review the hard way.

The Oct. 27 issue of the PawPrint student newspaper was not released until early November because Deltona High School Principal Gary Marks said several articles required review and discussion with his students.

“I wanted to meet with them and talk about concerns I had,” Marks said.

Marks flagged eight articles after he said he found “some issues” with them.

Eric Ritter, the PawPrint‘s senior sports editor, said he was “irate” when he found out an article he wrote criticizing the school’s spending was delayed and one of the articles under scrutiny.

Ritter’s article accused the school of “spending money on things that aren’t necessary,” including a new $700 television located in the front office.

Ritter said the school simply “can’t handle criticism.”

Marks said his intention was never to censor the articles and that students quickly realized their mistakes after discussing them with him.

“The main issue is when a story is being written, it needs to be clear whether it is an opinion or factual piece,” Marks said.

PawPrint adviser Joe Malley said he and Marks “agreed to disagree” on whether this was a case of administrative censorship.

“My staffers understand that they do not enjoy the same press rights as professional newspapers,” Malley said. “That’s how we’ll function.”

Malley said that situations like this make student journalists “realize the limits of their First Amendment rights.” Students are reminded they publish at a school where prior review is the norm, he said.

Marks said that students are only held to their responsibility to “write articles that are journalistically sound.”

Malley said his students will “continue to pursue and publish stories of interest” for their readers while Marks said the administration is exploring ways to train students in “journalistically sound” writing.

Marks also said he is planning to schedule a field trip to a local newspaper so his students can “get a better understanding of their responsibilities.”

Malley said he anticipates little change in the prior review policy.

“We’ve been asked to remove stories and comics and to hold stories over the past five years,” Malley said. “It doesn’t happen to us often, but it happens to high school newspapers throughout Volusia County.”