High school newspaper halts publication in protest of prior review

MINNESOTA — The staff of Mounds View High School’s studentnewspaper, The Viewer, has halted publication of the paper until priorreview is lifted from the Mounds View school district.

Christina Xia, editor-in-chief of The Viewer, said the push forprior review started after the paper reported a story naming the two studentswho were disciplined after posting a “joke” picture of their teacher onFacebook.

The reporter interviewed Principal Julie Wikelius for the story; however,she did not see the article until it was published and ready to be distributed.Martha Rush, adviser to The Viewer said Wikelius contacted Rush five daysafter the reporter interviewed Wikelius and requested to pull the story, but thepaper had been sent for publication.

After the article, Wikelius confiscated the papers due to concerns aboutreleasing students’ private disciplinary information without parental consent.Xia said administrators pushed for prior review following the publication of theissue.

Xia said although the reporter had permission from students to publishtheir names, administrators told her it was a violation of Family EducationalRights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and state data privacy laws. In order todistribute the issue by the end of the day, the staff obtained parental consentwaivers from the parents of named students.

Xia said she wants the issue to be resolved internally and for prior reviewto be lifted but that she said after a few meetings with administrators noresolution was reached. The student editors obtained volunteer legal assistancethrough the Student Press Law Center from Minnesota attorney Steve Aggregaard atBassford Remele, P.A.

“It really makes no legal or logical sense to equate a newspaper to aneducational record, doing that would be a chilling effect on college and highschool newspapers nationwide at public schools and that certainly is not whatCongress intended by enacting FERPA,” Aggregaard said.

Paul Ratwick, an attorney representing Mounds View High School districtsaid this policy has always been in place because the adviser acts on behalf ofthe district as publisher or editor under Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.

“In the past, the role of the administration has been a bit more distant,that they had left perhaps a greater deal of responsibility to the adviser thanthey are now contemplating. But in terms of the fact of the control of thedistrict, it’s been there all along. It’s a question of how they exercise it,”Ratwick said.

SPLC attorney advocate Adam Goldstein said, “A publisher is someone whoinvests their own money into a publication. Hazelwood makes clear thatschools aren’t publishers or editors, however inconvenient that is forschools.”

Rush said that in her 11 years as adviser she never submitted an article orissue to the principal before publication.

“From my perspective, it’s a new policy. [Administrators] may be saying[they] maintain the right to, but they haven’t always done it,” Rush said.

Xia said although the staff is not publishing the newspaper, they continueto write stories and layout pages for their class.

“I do not believe that prior review is the solution. I think that priorreview will limit us from learning responsible journalism… If the schoolimposes prior review, I am very concerned that this will lead to theadministration censoring what we write. I know that the administration saidtheir goal is fact checking, but I feel this will become their excuse to controlthe content of our student newspaper,” Xia said.

Prior review will also be enforced for Ironsdale High School in the MoundsView school district.

Diana Lowry, adviser for the Ironsdale Eye, said she does not haveany concerns about prior review at Ironsdale and sees it as another layer ofguidance.

“It protects the student [from saying] something that could come back tomake their lives a little more difficult, if they do get something wrong.They’re still kids. They tend to react very strongly to some things,” Lowrysaid.

Rush said she is open to discussions with administrators about issues, buther main concern is prior review turning into restraint and self-censorship forher students.

“What kind of safeguards will there be to ensure that this doesn’t become[censorship]? That’s the big concern, and feeling that it could affect whatkids to write about,” Rush said.

Goldstein said the censorship has already been made a reality.

“They’re imposing a rule to retaliate against what studentspublished — that’s censorship,” Goldstein said.