PENNSYLVANIA — Copies of the Cumberland Valley High Schoolnewspaper, the CV Eye Update, went missing Oct. 27 after the staff madean endorsement of Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, said anadviser to the student paper.
The front page included a photo of Obama with the headline, “CVEye Endorses Obama For President.”
“In a blind-ballot vote, thirty staff members determined that Obamahas the best platform for America’s future,” the staff wrote in thepaper. “The statistics below show the distribution of opinion among thisnewspaper staff only. No matter who students support, we encourage everyone ofvoting age to get out and cast their vote come November 4.”
Levi Mumma, writing adviser to the CV Eye Update, said no one sawthe papers being thrown out or stolen and have not reported the papers stolen ormissing to authorities. He said he had no clue to who may be responsible for themissing papers and did not want to speculate. The staff believes the papers werethrown out, he said.
A student editor for the CV Eye Update told The Patriot-Newsthat some students took stacks of the newspaper and threw them in the trash– a move one First Amendment advocate said can be prosecuted incourt.
“We asked administrators and people who were at lunches if they sawanything — they hadn’t. But, we knew they weren’t instudents’ hands,” Mumma said. “The only other thing that couldhave happened is someone must have thrown them out.”
The local newspaper in Harrisburg, Pa., The Patriot-News, reportedNov. 1 that unidentified students threw out stacks of the newspapers because ofopposition to the editorial inside the paper. Mumma said there was a consensusamong the staff that the papers went missing but there was”fishiness” that the papers were stolen instead.
“We would have liked a person to write a letter and to respondappropriately, and if someone stole it, then we would suggest that next time orin the future, they would respond appropriately via a letter to theeditor,” Mumma said. “But they didn’t and they weren’tas responsible as we hoped.”
Mike Hiestand, legal advocate for the Student Press Law Center, said if thestudent editors find out who threw the papers out, they have a legal right toreport a theft complaint against the individual. Hiestand said a number of stateprosecutors have gone after newspaper thieves under traditional theft law, butthere are other lighter measures that could be taken as well.
“If they want to take legal action that is something they cando,” Hiestand said. “Another thing they can do, and maybe this is afirst step before going public and filing a legal action, is if they know whodid it they can go to them and demand a very public apology and restitution sothat they can reprint the papers as soon as possible.”
William E. Harner, Cumberland Valley School District superintendent, saidhe saw the issue of the CV Eye Update and was proud of the work thestudent-editors did but had not heard the newspapers were thrown out or stolen.
“That disturbs me that that took place,” Harner said.
He also said the district would look into the matter and possibly takeaction against the person or persons involved depending on their intent, and nomatter who it is, something would be said or done to prevent it from happeningagain.
“Whoever would do that would be counseled on what freedom of speechis,” Harner said. “It’s an invaluable teaching point youdon’t want to lose.”
Harner compared the thrown out or stolen papers to political signs beingtaken from someone’s front lawn or off the side of the highway. Eitherway, Harner said is still proud that the student-journalists were able to sparkdiscussion among the entire school district, including some local citizens whocalled the school district to find out its position on the Obamaendorsement.
“It’s not the school district taking a position, it’s theschool newspaper,” he said. “So it became an education lesson forsome of our constituents and some of our school community members on freespeech.”
Hiestand said the student-journalists have a right to do politicalendorsements and that the problem does not really reside with censorship amongadministrators or faculty, but more of a straightforward theft case.
“As far as we know, school officials weren’t involved in it andso there’s not a First Amendment claim here,” he said.
“It’s just another indication that kids are in need of a littlecivics education here when their response to somebody actually taking apolitical stand … is to swipe the papers and throw them away so nobody canread them.”
Hiestand, who has written several articles about newspaper theft, saidstealing newspapers has a chilling effect on the First Amendment.
“It’s pretty much the most efficient form of censorship Iknow,” he said.