Montana student recognized for resisting school’s cover-up of athletes’ grades

Will Meyer is grateful for the Student Free Press Award that he received in the Montana High School Better Newspaper contest, but the sting of the censorship battle that prompted his recognition remains.

Meyer, who will begin his tenure as editor-in-chief of Bozeman High School’s Hawk Talk in August,  was recognized for fighting to prevent administrative censorship of the newspaper, after the principal prohibited the staff from running the complete version of a story that listed the average GPAs of school athletic teams.

In what Meyer called “one of the most interesting things the paper did all year,” the administration stopped the newspaper from printing the average GPAs that fell below 3.0, which Meyer said only made the school look like it had something to hide.

Meyer’s experience highlights the abuse of administrative power that is all too common with prior-review regimes that are trying to maintain a polished image for their schools.

But Meyer, who was sports editor at the time of the story’s publication, said the staff didn’t have an agenda when writing the article, and its publication wasn’t intended toe embarrass the school. “It was just presenting the information,” Meyer said.

Meyer found the censorship particularly shocking because all the information regarding athletic GPAs was already publicly available online on the Montana High School Sports website.

So he spoke out. For the following issue, Meyer wrote an editorial explaining the school’s censorship of the article. The editorial described how the Hawk Talk staff felt that the school administration was trying to paint a deceptive picture by removing the lowest-ranking teams, and how the newspaper was being prevented from doing its job.

“The Hawk Talk should be an unfiltered voice to the community,” Meyer said, adding that the Halk Talk is not only distributed among Bozeman students and staff, but residents of Bozeman area as well. “We’re not the P.R. department for the high school.”

Despite the tumultuous end to the school year, Meyer is optimistic for his upcoming term as editor-in-chief, and feels that despite recent budget cuts publication will go well, as long as a level of transparency is maintained by the administration.

In addition to Meyer’s recognition, Hawk Talk staff members Emma Light, Logan Walker and Josh Stevens also received awards in the Better Newspaper contest.