IOWA — An Iowa principal pulled all remaining copies of thestudent newspaper — with a front-page survey indicating 13 percent ofstudents polled viewed blacks unfavorably and 2 percent viewed whitesunfavorably — after three separate altercations between black and whitestudents.
The Little Hawk staff distributed the paper as normal before 8 a.m.on Oct. 19. By 1 p.m., Mark Hanson, principal of City High School in Iowa City,removed all remaining issues, according to both Hanson and newspaper adviserJeff Morris.
Hanson said three verbal confrontations took place in three separate partsof the building as a result of the front-page survey, with students shouting aboutracism and the survey. Teachers were able to separate the students before theheated discussions escalated to violence, he said.
“This was in the name of school safety,” Hanson said,explaining that he has never pulled copies of the paper before and does not planto change any policies regarding student publications. Hanson said he has notyet decided whether the Little Hawk’s online edition will be ableto display the articles as usual.
Morris said he was “disturbed” that the papers were pulled, buthe understands the principal’s need to keep students safe.
“He’s worried fights might break out and he thought this mightstop it,” Morris said.
But Adam Sullivan, executive editor of the newspaper, said Hanson’sactions were “illegal.”
The Iowa Student Free Expression Law gives students added protectionagainst administrative censorship. Under the law, Hanson cannot censor the paperunless the material is obscene, slanderous, libelous, encourages students toviolate the law or break school rules, or causes a disruption.
Hanson said the fights did cause a disruption and that his actions were”absolutely not” illegal.
“There was a disruption at the school and I needed to find the sourceof the problem,” he said.
But Sullivan said the survey and editorial discussing the results weremeant to create discussion about racism.
“We wanted to show everybody it’s not okay to sweep this underthe rug,” he said. “Racism is one of those subjects you don’ttouch. The administration wants to ignore the white elephant in the corner …and pretend that everything is great.”
When Sullivan decided to work on a story about students’ attitudessurrounding sexual orientation, religion and race, he had to first get approvalfrom Hanson to conduct the survey. After Hanson gave his okay, Sullivandistributed the survey to three English classes, compiled the data, created agraphic displaying the results and wrote an editorial saying the school neededto address the racial opinions of the students.
After the article was complete, Morris suggested the students might want todiscuss it with Hanson because it addressed a sensitive subject.
“[Hanson] never said you can’t print this,” Sullivansaid.
After Hanson pulled the issues, Sullivan issued a press release to thelocal media.
“It’s a good way of showing Mr. Hanson that the whole communityis behind us; it’s not just 20 staffers mad about censorship,” hesaid.