Student staff members resign from high school paper following censorship controversies

ILLINOIS — After months of controversy with school administrators, 11staff members–including the top editors–of Stevenson HighSchool’s Statesman resigned from their positions as of Wednesday evening.The students withdrew from their journalism class, which produces thepublication.

The resignations follow months of conflict between the staff and schooladministrators over the newspaper’s content.

Statesman staff members spoke out against recurring censorshipissues at the school’s Board of Education meeting in December 2009. The meetingaddressed the removal of an article in the Dec. 18 issue of the paper, whichdiscussed the use of prescription drugs among students. In November, the staffwas required to produce a paper with only administration-approved content afterthe administration objected to the use of anonymous sources in a story.

Former managing editor, senior Evan Ribot, has worked for theStatesman since his freshman year. Ribot told the SPLC in December thattalking did not seem to be getting the staff anywhere.

“They just change their statements so often and change what they’re doingso often that a lot of times it’s impossible to make progress,” he said.

District spokesman Jim Conrey said the administration had planned to workwith the students to implement changes to the class. “They chose to withdrawbefore giving it a chance to work out,” he said.

According to Gabriel Fuentes, anattorney with Jenner & Block LLP, who is working with the students asa Student Press Law Center volunteerattorney, there has been an ongoing disagreement over the limits of thedistrict’s authority under the standards established by the Supreme Court inHazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.

“The students, faced with the choice of continuing to labor under thatdisagreement, have decided honorably to resign,” he said. “[It] was a missedopportunity for the school district to demonstrate that it really was preparedto comply with First Amendment law and the Hazelwood case.”

Former Statesman Editor-in-Chief Pamela Selman told the ChicagoTribune she would “rather practice no journalism than journalism thatdoesn’t follow with my ethics and what I believe in.”

In regards to the current status of the Statesman, Conrey said thatalthough the class has been downsized, he does not foresee any problems withpublishing.

“We plan to carry on the best we can,” he said. The next issue had been setfor a Jan. 29 publication.