Ill. school board approves prior review policy for student newspaper

ILLINOIS — After three months of review, the Harrisburg, board approved a prior review policy that gives Harrisburg High SchoolPrincipal Karen Crank authority to review the student newspaper, the PurpleClarion, 48 hours before publication.

Harrisburg Community Unit #3 Board of Education member Judy Cape said thereis not much change from the past policy and that she does not believe this iscensorship.

Hazelwood defines the standard of censorship for high schoolnewspapers,” Cape said. “It is my intent and expectation as a board member thatthe paper will be reviewed within those standards. These students still haveFirst Amendment rights under Hazelwood.”

Under Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, high schooladministrators can censor many school-sponsored student publications if they canshow they have a legitimate educational reason for doing so.

In addition to prior review, the new policy requires writers to sign alleditorials and opinion articles. Purple Clarion adviser Cathy Wallvoiced displeasure with the policy changes at the school board meeting and saidthat she does not agree with the idea of prior review of content by anadministrator.

“Instead of teaching them (the students) to think freely and independently — to watch their government with a critical eye and speak out whensomething is amiss — we are teaching them to accept the role of governmentcensorship because the principal is a government employee,” Wall said in ane-mail.

Wall said that although she spoke with Crank about censorship, she is stillconcerned about the issues related to prior review of the publication.

“And while our principal has told me she has no interest in censorship, wethink the new policy creates a scenario where student expression can be censoredif someone perceives it as interfering with the school’s educational mission,”Wall said.

Sally Turner, executive director of the Illinois Journalism EducationAssociation, addressed the school board at the meeting last month and urged theschool board to reconsider the policy changes.

“What you are suggesting at this time is inappropriate, and changing thestructure of the class would set a dangerous precedent for other teachers inother subjects,” Turner said at the meeting. She compared the situation withthe journalism class and journalism students to that of an art class.

“You don’t question an award-winning art teacher or ask to review everypiece of art that leaves the classroom,” she said.

Cape said that the school board was advised by legal counsel that theschool district is legally responsible for the content of the newspaper, and thedecision to impose prior review was meant to “assure that someone in a positionof authority within the district looks at the paper within the parameters ofHazelwood.”

Talks of revamping the policy began last December when the school boardissued a directive asking writers to use courtesy titles in opinion andeditorial content after the Purple Clarion published an opinion articlecriticizing Crank.

Wall said during the school board meeting that as the adviser, she iscapable of reviewing the paper for legal issues. She believes there are “toomany inconsistencies in the logic used to justify this policy,” but plans torestructure next school year’s production cycle to accommodate the 48-hour priorreview requirement.

For More Information:

  • Ill. school board imposes directive for student newspaper to use courtesy titles in stories News Flash, 1/28/2008