Principal pulls interview from student paper, replaces with edited version

NEBRASKA — The principal of Bellevue East High School willonly allow student editors of the school’s newspaper to publish thedrastically edited version of a Q&A with the superintendent of the schooldistrict rather than original report. The principal and superintendent areuncomfortable with the initial interview because of its potential impact duringongoing negotiations.

Editor-in-Chief Angela Rolston interviewed Superintendent John Deegan aboutrecent negotiations between the teacher’s union and the district regardingpay raises, which have been the lowest in the state, according to Rolston. Sheformatted it as a Q&A, then submitted it to Principal Brad Stueve for priorreview. Rolston did not know, however, that Stueve then decided to re-submit theinterview to Deegan.

Our principal took it behind our backs to thesuperintendent and another administrator,” Rolston said. “Then thesuperintendent took my interview, went through all his questions, re-wordedthem, and basically gave me all his answers, and they want us to printthat.”

Stueve said Deegan re-worked his answers because he wanted to make sure thewords he used were actually conveying what is going on in the district, and notmisconstrued. Deegan said he was unaware of the student’s intentions whenhe was first approached, and did not think the ensuing subject matter wassuitable to include in a high school newspaper.

“They said they were coming down to ask one question about thestimulus dollars, and they led right into a bunch of other questions, and I wasjust real honest with the kids,” Deegan said. “However, we’rein the middle of negotiations, and we didn’t feel it was appropriateduring the middle of this legal action.”

In addition to the interview, Rolston said an editorial written by herco-editor, Ronnie Farr, was also put under the spotlight. Farr’s editorialwas about students attending board meetings to keep up with current topics, andalleviate confusion about what is going on in the district. The editorial wasdeemed “inappropriate” by Stueve, and pulled from the paper.

“[The administrators] said we should be going to other things likestudent council meetings instead, even though board meetings are open to thepublic and we are allowed to go,” Farr said.

Rolston and Farr spoke to Stueve, claiming that the 1988 ruling inHazelwood v. Kuhlmeier makes this kind of censorship unlawful. But Stuevesaid he knew the Hazelwood standard inside and out, according to Rolston,and his justification for the censorship was that he was afraid the originalinterview would cause unnecessary controversy. 

But this kind of censorship isunlawful, according to Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student PressLaw Center.

Hazelwood requires, at a minimum, a legitimate educationalreason to censor,” he said. “Being embarrassed by your ownintemperate comments isn’t a reason.”

While Stueve said the situation is “amicable” and he is tryingto work it out with the reporters, Rolston said she and the staff members of thepaper are prepared to fight. She thinks it is important to run the originalinterview in the paper because his initial answers were more natural.

“It’s like he’s censoring himself,” Rolston said.”Our district is all about the image. I think it’s time we startfighting, to let the district know that we are not OK with this.”