Minnesota high school newspaper photo stirs controversy

MINNESOTA — A committee was formed at a school board meeting last night to evaluate St. Francis High School’s policy on censorship after controversy erupted over a photo that was censored from the student newspaper.

The Crier, St. Francis High School’s newspaper, included a story covering the school’s production of “The Children’s Story,” that was to be accompanied by a photograph depicting the lead actress holding what appeared to be a torn American flag. It was in fact a tablecloth bunting, a coarse material often used for the production of patriotic decorations.

Student journalists said they informed school Principal Paul Neubauer of their intentions prior to publication, and told them he did not want the picture published for fear of offending the public or veterans. Neubauer also froze the paper’s funds and threatened to take legal action against the paper if it published the photo, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

After a week’s delay, the issue was sent to the printer Jan. 19 and was finally distributed Monday. In place of the photo, the newspaper included a blue box with the words, “Originally a photo was to be placed here, but was censored by the administration.”

Although the Crier staff said they believe they had the legal right to print the photo, they chose to protect the future of the newspaper and not fight the censorship, the Pioneer Press reported.

The new committee will review the school’s policy regarding student publications and is comprised of two school board members, the district superintendent, the high school principal, the newspaper adviser and two students.

Currently, the school’s policy states that “Official school publications are free from prior restraint by officials except as provided by law.”

Neubauer said it would be “presumptuous” to state any expectations about the committee or the future of this incident.

Crier Editor in Chief Eric Sheforgen said he is concerned that this incident will compel the board to enforce a prior review policy, according to the Pioneer Press.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has also expressed interest in possibly working with the students, Executive Director Chuck Samuelson said.

“It’s a standing issue and we are trying to find who can become a plaintiff,” Samuelson said. “We need to hear from the students.”

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer