Newspapers containing editorial critical of school's PE program confiscated

VIRGINIA — Students at Albemarle High School inCharlottesville received the last issue of their newspaper two weeks later thanscheduled after an editorial prompted school officials to destroy the originalcopies.

A staff editorial in the May edition of The Revolution suggestedthat student athletes be allowed to opt out of physical education class andproposed some cost-cutting suggestions for the school’s PE requirements.The newspapers were removed from the stands before students could see them.

Sean Cudahy, outgoing editor-in-chief of The Revolution, said thatonce Principal Jay Thomas saw the printed edition of the paper and showed theeditorial to the PE department, he received complaints from PE teachers aboutthe potential of the editorial to disrupt their classes. It was after this thatthe papers were removed from the stands.

“I think this [decision] was an incomplete understanding of theirrights as administrators under Hazelwood,” Cudahy said. “Theyunderstood the text of the case perhaps, that said if they have a concern basedon the educational process, they can hold an article. But I don’t thinkthey realize what a disruption is. Just suggesting that there should be somechanges to PE to save money– I don’t see how anyone could find thatto be disruptive to education.”

In the 1988 case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, the Supreme Court ruledthat school administrators have the power to censor student speech if theypresent a reasonable educational justification for their censorship and provethat such speech would cause a substantial disruption to the educationalprocess.

But Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center,said this editorial could not be considered a legitimate disruption to the PEcurriculum.

“They’re saying this is disruptive because it will makeathletes not want to go to PE–as if they didn’t already know thiswas a waste of their time,” Goldstein said. “It’s an obvious,classic First Amendment violation. It’s a government official telling astudent they can’t publish something because it’s inconvenient forthe government.”

Although Cudahy said he was not part of the decision making process 100percent of the time, his understanding was that while Thomas said he left theultimate decision to the student newspaper adviser, Kim Aust, he strongly urgedher to pull the issue from the stands.

“He [Thomas] came back later in the day and said it was up to theadviser to ensure the quality of the newspaper, and that it was ultimately herdecision,” Cudahy said. “They determined not to publish the issue.It’s a tough position for her to be both worried about ensuring herstudents’ press rights but also her own job.”

Aust did not return calls for comment by press time.

The newspaper was reprinted and distributed two weeks later, on June 2,without the editorial. The decision was disappointing, Cudahy said, but a choicehe had to make.

“My legs were kind of taken out from under me with the decision notto print [the editorial],” he said. “I was in the situation where wecould either publish nothing or publish something without theeditorial.”

While Cudahy didn’t expect the PE teachers to be thrilled with theeditorial, he said the staff had worked hard to ensure that the language wascourteous and respectful.

“We try to be respectful, but if we were just cheerleaders for theschool, then we would be falling well short of our duties as a newspaper,”he said. “I think it’s really important to be able to haveeditorials that are both negative and positive. Of course you always try to befair, but having different types of editorials and articles is a reallyimportant thing.”

The students posted the editorial to Facebook along with a statement aboutthe situation the night the alternative issue of the paper was distributed.

Cudahy said he feels as though The Revolution has run morecontroversial editorials than this in the past, some of which have even led topositive changes for the school.

“I was disappointed, because I feel like the student newspaper is areally important voice in a school,” he said. “And I think when youget into the habit of censoring editorials that are just meant to bring about adiscussion, you’re really opening up a can of worms there.”

Thomas did not return calls or e-mails by press time.