PRESS RELEASE: High School Journalism Community Rallies Behind Missouri Students On

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEContact: Frank D. LoMonte, Executive

To show their support for the students of Missouri’s Timberland HighSchool in their fight against the unjustified censorship of students’journalistic work — including a ban on any mention or image of tattoos inthe newspaper or yearbook — convention-goers meeting at the National HighSchool Journalism Convention will be asked Friday, April 16, to wear temporarytattoos to celebrate “Timberland Tattoo Solidarity Day.”

More than 2,000 temporary tattoos carrying the message “Tattoos aretemporary — ignorance is permanent” will be handed out at thePortland, Ore., convention by teachers and students volunteering with theStudent Press Law Center, an Arlington, Va.-basedadvocacy group that supports the student media in opposing unnecessarycensorship of student newspapers, yearbooks, broadcasts and websites.

“School administrators always give the same reason for censoringstudent journalism — because they want to protect the image of the school.We want the administrators at Timberland to understand how foolish it makes theschool look when censorship goes overboard,” said Student Press Law CenterExecutive Director Frank D. LoMonte, an attorney. ” ‘TimberlandTattoo Solidarity Day’ is a small way for the whole country to cometogether and let the students at Timberland know that we stand behindthem.”

Students at public schools such as Wentzville’s Timberland HighSchool have First Amendment protections, even in school-sponsored media, thatschool officials may not abridge without demonstrating a reasonable educationalbasis. The newspaper at Timberland, The Wolf’s Howl, operatedsuccessfully and without incident for many years — winning multiple awardsfor excellence from the National Scholastic Press Association — before theschool mandated in 2008 that administrators tightly review each paper forpotentially objectionable content.

As a result of the censorship, Wolf’s Howl adviser CathyMcCandless resigned as journalism adviser as of the end of the 2009 school year.Timberland parents supportive of McCandless and the journalism program attemptedto ask the Wentzville Board of Education for help at the Board’s March 18meeting, but were denied the opportunity to speak.

“Timberland High School is a symbol for the nation of why mandatoryadministrative approval of student journalism never works — becauseadministrators can’t resist imposing their own personal tastes and turninga vehicle for student expression into the school’s public-relationsnewsletter,” LoMonte said. “With today’s shrinking news media,it is more important than ever that students be allowed to tell the communityabout what is going on inside of our schools, truthfully and withoutintimidation.”

“There are times when censorship occurs in a gray area andadministrators have to make difficult judgment calls, but that’s not thecase at Timberland. When administrators impose arbitrary and pointlessstandards, it’s the equivalent of the drill sergeant who tells the recruitto dig a hole and then fill it up again. This is not about’teaching,’ it’s about breaking the students’ will andshowing them who’s boss,” LoMonte said.

“Timberland Tattoo Solidarity Day” is a project of the Student Press Law Center’s volunteers andsupporters, and is not an official part of the Journalism Education Association/ National Scholastic Press Association’s spring convention. SPLCvolunteers will be asking all attendees at the convention — students,educators and vendors — to display the Timberland tattoos on Friday, andthe SPLC will post photographs from the event to its Facebook page.

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been devoted to educating highschool and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied inthe First Amendment, and supporting the student news media in covering importantissues free from censorship. The Center provides free information andeducational materials for student journalists and their teachers on a widevariety of legal topics.

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  • Timberland student journalists, parents plan to speak out at board meeting News Flash, 03/10/2010
  • Cancer ribbon tattoo delays distribution of Mo. high school paper News Flash, 12/22/2009
  • Principal demands tattoo ads be pulled from student newspaper News Flash, 10/28/2009
  • Principal censors newspaper’s articles about tattoos News Flash, 10/15/2009