Va. high school plans to adjust newspaper policy

VIRGINIA — After adopting a student publications policy thatrevoked editorship rights from students and held the principal fully responsiblefor the content of student publications, high schools in the Fauquier CountyPublic Schools district are taking action to remove some of itslimitations.

Fauquier High School Principal Roger Sites, Assistant Superintendent FrankFinn, Student Newspaper Adviser Marie Miller and four other advisers andprincipals from the two additional high schools in the district met Wednesday todiscuss three major adjustments to be made to the policy.

The policy currently states the school board will act as publisher, theprincipal and adviser as co-editors, and students as assistant editors to anypublication, in addition to requiring that content be suitable for audiencemembers of all ages. The administrators discussed giving editorship back to thestudents and changing the intended audience age to reflect the readership of ahigh school audience.

Finn has sent the changes to the school district attorney in Richmond topropose amending the policy to reflect the recent discussions.

“We crafted in the meeting what we proposed in terms of changes wewanted to make and have an attached regulation to go with that,” Finnsaid. “We want to make sure we understand the implications and where thatleads us.”

Miller said changing the language of the policy was a topic of discussionbecause of high school student journalists’ intended writing style.

“We want to change it to be suitable for  ‘the audience forwhich it is distributed’ so we don’t have to write for elementaryschool kids,” Miller said.

In addition to giving editorship rights back to students and changing thelanguage of the intended audience, Miller also said they discussed tweaking theintroduction that defines, “These publications are not intended to providea public forum for students or the general public” to introduce the ideaof student publications acting as a limited forum.

“Our newspaper has a very long history of acting like a forum,”Miller said. “So we have a little bit more latitude to tackle toughissues.”

If the school attorney agrees, the advisers, principals and superintendentswill reconvene to discuss the added regulations to the policy that willhighlight the specifics of the projected changes. Once they have completed theregulation, it will be sent to Richmond for the attorney’s approval. Thesuperintendents, principals and advisers will then re-approach the VirginiaSchool Board Association with their amended policy. Miller said they are usingthe Fairfax County, Virginia policy as an example of their desired focus.

The new policy that limited the rights of student publications in FauquierCounty was adopted over the summer without the consultation of the adviser orstudents.

“We didn’t find out until Sept. 27; we had no idea,” saidWilliam Wilcox, editor-in-chief of The Falconer at Fauquier High School.

“Miss Miller came back from a journalism meeting — I was coming into do late night when she told me. I was extremely dismayed by the entiresituation.”

Miller said while she is happy about the proposed changes, she still doesnot agree with the policy’s introduction of mandatory prior review, buttrusts Sites will put his faith in the students and herself.

“Roger has never asked to review an article, and his advice is alwaysgood,” Miller said.

For More Information:

  • Policy gives administrators editorship of Va. high school newspaper News Flash, 9/24/2009