High school students lose censorship appeal to school board

WASHINGTON — Just weeks after a bill promoting the free press rights of high school students died in the Washington state legislature, a school board rebuked a group of student journalists looking to override administrative censorship.

The students at Vashon High School’s The Riptide sought publication of an article originally scheduled to run in March that was censored by Vashon High School Principal Susan Hanson because it concerned a “personnel issue,” she said.

“I don’t believe that a student newspaper is the appropriate venue to air concerns and grievances about staff,” Hanson said in a telephone interview.

District policy prevents personnel issues from being discussed in public, according to the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, a local newspaper.

Hanson said she reviews each issue of The Riptide before it prints and in her nine years as principal “this is the only time I’ve ever pulled an article.”

Hanson also said she met with the school district’s attorney and the superintendent before making what she called a “difficult” decision.

The Vashon Island School Board voted 4-1 April 27 to uphold the administration’s censorship of the article, after student reporters and Hanson presented their sides of the story to board members. Board President Susan Lofland told The News Tribune, a newspaper in nearby Tacoma, Wa., that because the school district is the publisher of the student newspaper, it has a right to determine the paper’s content.

But, “everyone was respectful and listed to different perspectives,” Lofland told The News Tribune.

Riptide adviser Greg McElroy said the incident was not a total loss for the student journalists involved.

“They did not feel defeated. No one was surprised with the decision,” he told the Beachcomber. “They learned that people will listen to them seriously, especially when they present themselves well. The board clearly did listen to them and respected what they said.”

Hanson agreed, saying she considered the end result a positive for both sides.

“Although the editors and I disagreed over the appropriateness and legality of the article, they were respectful and we agreed to disagree,” Hanson said. “I respect it very much, the manner in which they conducted their appeal. They did everything right. I’m very proud of them.”

By Scott Sternberg, SPLC staff writer