OHIO — In a reversal of his previous decision, a superintendent has announced that members of the staff of the high school magazine will not be subjected to prior review.
Princeton city schools Superintendent Aaron Mackey said he will not instill the policy, which was proposed last month after the principal at Princeton High School censored an article in Odin’s Word. Mackey attributed the reversal to continued discussions with administrators over the merit of prior review.
Administrators instead decided simply revising the publication statement could avoid further problems, he said. In 2005, an adviser revised the statement to designate the magazine as an open forum. The previous publication statement, which does not include the public forum statement, will be reinstated, Mackey said.
The 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier affords more rights to school publications that are deemed public forums for student expression. According to the ruling, such a publication could only be censored if the subject matter would cause a substantial disruption of school activities or invade the rights of others. School officials have much greater authority to censor student publications that are not public forums.
Ruth Pearson, chief editor of Odin’s Word, said she was concerned that there could be another instance of censorship, but she pointed out that censorship has not been an issue in the past, even when the magazine covered sensitive issues such as drugs and school fights.
“This is the first time that I know of that we really dealt with censorship. Most of the things we do aren’t going to cause trouble,” she said.
Mackey also said he was confident that similar incidents can be avoided in the future. “But I think we’ve all learned a lot from this. … I don’t anticipate a problem.”
One of the administrators who advocated reversing Mackey’s decision was Robyn Carey Allgeyer, Princeton city schools director of communications and the official who would have been tasked with reviewing Odin’s Word each month. Allgeyer, who called this case of prior review a “no-win situation,” said she believed that the responsibility of advising the magazine should fall on the school’s English department, which sets the curriculum for the class that publishes the magazine.
“It’s not an activity. It’s not an after-school activity. It’s not a club. It’s a class,” she said. “The publication policy needs to be bottom line along with the curriculum experts.”
Pearson, who previously expressed trepidation about the potential for future censorship, said she was relieved by the decision.
“We can continue to do what we’ve been doing, and we don’t have to worry so much about pleasing the administration,” she said. “We can continue to operate by the rules of journalism … as opposed to whatever our administration would want us to have.”
Pearson, a senior, also credited Allgeyer with convincing Mackey to reverse the decision. Since the beginning of the ordeal, Allgeyer has expressed her support for the staff, Pearson said, and she has been one of the paper’s most outspoken advocates.
“She has the same background in journalism that we hoped the people making the decisions would have,” she said.
The prospect of prior review originated after an article in the December issue of the magazine sparked the ire of the school’s principal. The article, written by junior Evan Payne, criticized the football team for its 8-23 record during the past three seasons. The staff was told to physically remove the two pages containing the column from the 2,100 copies of the magazine.
Mackey said the principal, who has declined to comment publicly about the incident, believed that the article was journalistically unsound and that it could incite conflict between the football team and the magazine’s staff.
The prospect of prior review was also unpopular with parents, including those of Evan Payne. Paula Payne, who had said she would complain directly to the school board during its Feb. 8 meeting, said in an e-mail that she sees Mackey’s decision as a victory. The reversal of the decision alleviated her reservations, and she said no longer plans on appealing to the school board.
By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer