JEA condemns administrative prior review of student newspapers

ARIZONA — The continuing prevalence of administrative priorreview motivated the Journalism Education Association to pass an updatedstatement denouncing the practice.

“Prior review by administrators undermines critical thinking,encourages students to dismiss the role of a free press in society and providesno greater likelihood of increased quality of student media,” thestatement says.

The practice of prior review allows school administrators to read thecontent of student publications before they go to press. Though public schooladministrators are government employees, federal courts generally have foundthat prior review by itself does not violate the First Amendment.

The national scholastic journalism group’s new statement, adopted bythe JEA Board of Directors on April 16, replaces an older version passed in1990. The JEA is a 2,100-member organization that represents high schooljournalism advisers and teachers, and provides educational support for studentjournalism.

JEA Scholastic Press Rights Chair John Bowen said prior review is a topproblem facing student journalism because it almost always leads to censorship — either overtly or as students think twice about publishing anything thatmight cause controversy. The JEA has also seen an increase in the number ofadvisers being second-guessed or punished for student content with prior reviewpolicies, he said.

“There is no real educational justification for review,” Bowensaid in an e-mail. “There are always alternatives that allow the studentsto control content and positively learn as they do so.”

The statement includes a number of strategies for administrators, educatorsand student journalists to pursue top-quality journalism without prior review.Offering feedback, hiring qualified advisers and providing adequate resourcesall support good journalism without taking control away from the students, thestatement says.

Bowen, a Kent State University journalism professor, said the JEA hopes thestatement will make all parties aware about the alternatives to priorreview.

“We also hope it will be the starting point for increased dialoguewith administrators and other educators — as well as their variouscommunities,” he said.

Prior review practices have caused controversy and community rifts at anumber of high schools in recent months. The adviser of the student newspaper atStevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., stepped down from the positionafter administrators instated additional oversight following controversialcontent about students’ dating habits. 

At Harrisburg High School inHarrisburg, Ill., the school board approved a prior review policy over theobjections of the newspaper adviser and journalism organizations in the state.The question of prior review arose after the newspaper printed an opinionarticle critical of the school principal. 

A Clovis, N.M., school district alsobegan enforcing its prior review policy after community members were upset witha yearbook featuring lesbian couples at Clovis High School, where students werealso suspended in 2004 for passing out fliers to protest a prior reviewpolicy.

For More Information:

  • Stevenson High School adviser resigns position after prior review policy enforced News Flash, 4/21/2009
  • Ill. school district revises prior review policy after ‘hooking up’ issue of student newspaper News Flash, 2/17/2009
  • Yearbooks face more scrutiny Report, 8/20/2008
  • Covering sexuality — carefully Report, 8/20/2008