Previously censored article printed after high school paper, administration reach compromise

ARIZONA — After a ten-month censorship battle with theGlendale Union High School District, Thunderbird High School’s studentnewspaper, The Challenge, published and distributed a previously censoredarticle.

The article about the district’s teacher assessment testing was set topublish on May 8, 2009, and is now in the Feb. 12 of The Challenge, alongwith the district’s response.

Negotiations took place between student editors and administrators topublish the original article and the district’s response after a long appealsprocess.

“We hope that so far the articles that we’ve published sent a message toother principals and other school districts in the state,” formerEditor-in-Chief Vaughn Hillyard said.

The article included teachers’ responses expressing skepticism about the Performance Based Assessment, which is used to rank the district’s teachers and determine whether their students are learning the curriculum. According to the article in The Challenge, the PBA is mandated by the district and is a standardized written test taken by students in multiple subjects.

The article states the district can use the test to compare the performance of teachers based on student scores, as well as use the test to evaluate where teachers are in the curriculum.

Hillyard said at the time that Thunderbird High School Principal MattBelden called the article inaccurate and the reporting shoddy, which was thejustification for pulling the article in May.

Hillyard and former Business Manager Sophia Curran appealed Belden’sdecision to Superintendent Jennifer Johnson, who agreed with Belden and said thestory was biased. Hillyard appealed Johnson’s decision to the district’sgoverning board, which ruled on Aug. 19, 2009, that Belden and Johnson werejustified in pulling the article.

When the students’ appeals failed, they obtained volunteer legal counselfrom David Bodney of Steptoe & Johnson, LLP, to explore legalremedies.

Hillyard said the current issue includes the school’s take on whyPerformance Based Assessment testing is beneficial and good for the curriculum,despite refusal at the beginning from administrators to print their responsewith the original article.

The Challenge‘s adviser, Sherri Siwek, said she is disappointed thatthe newspaper still remains under prior review, but remains optimistic.

Both current Editor-in-Chief Talisa Timms and Siwek said they are concernedabout students on staff self-censoring.

“We were really hoping now that because of this case that they won’t be soquick to actually just censor the paper because they don’t like an article,”Siwek said.

Hillyard said he learned the importance of the First Amendment as itapplies to journalism, as well as a democracy.

“I think it’s important for people to not back down in these kinds ofsituations. It’s more than just with a high school newspaper article. Censoringis the destruction of thoughts, opinions, and everything that makes ademocracy,” said Hillyard, who is now attending Arizona State University’sWalter Cronkite School of Journalism.