FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Frank D. LoMonte, Executive Director
703.807.1904 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Two Arizona student journalists who prevailed over the high school’scensorship of a news article and finally published their story 10 months later,and a Michigan principal who defended his journalism students against amisleading attack campaign by community critics, are the recipients of the 2010Courage in Student Journalism Awards.
The student winners are the staff of The Challenge at ThunderbirdHigh School in Glendale, Ariz., led by former editor-in-chief Vaughn Hillyardand business manager Sophia Curran. The faculty/administration winner is WilliamC. (“Kit”) Moran, the principal of Dexter High School in Dexter,Mich., whose student newspaper is The Squall.
The awards, which will be presented at the National High School JournalismConvention on Nov. 13 in Kansas City, are given each year to student journalistsand school officials who have demonstrated outstanding support for thefree-press rights of students.
The presenting sponsor is the Center for Scholastic Journalism, a programof the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University.The award is co-sponsored by the Student Press Law Center and the NationalScholastic Press Association.
Frank D. LoMonte, an attorney and the executive director of the SPLC, saidthe staff of The Challenge stood out among dozens of deserving nominees. “We saw many worthy candidates who did outstanding journalistic work, andmany excellent candidates who showed bravery in facing down censorship, butVaughn, Sophia and their staff managed to combine both of these in a singleentry. These students pursued the kind of meaningful, substantive story thatexemplifies the watchdog function of journalism at its best. Instead of beingcongratulated for a job well done, they faced a gauntlet of harassment andobstruction. But they knew they were right and their school was wrong, and theynever wavered in their determination.”
The controversy at The Challenge erupted when the staff wrote anarticle for the final newspaper of the 2008-2009 school year candidly discussingmany teachers’ skepticism about a teacher testing program. Just as thepaper was going to press, Principal Matt Belden pulled the article, claiming itwas biased — even though administrators refused to provide comments tobalance the article. The Challenge staff went to press with a blank,8 1/2-inch square of white space.
The students pursued three levels of administrative appeals — all ofwhich were denied — before obtaining volunteer legal assistance fromrenowned media lawyer David Bodney of Steptoe & Johnson, LLP, in Phoenix.Bodney negotiated a resolution permitting the students to publish the article– with the addition of comments from district officials who had refusedcomment in the original story.
Hillyard, who is enrolled at Arizona State University’s CronkiteSchool of Journalism, remained committed to the fight even after graduating fromThunderbird: “From the very beginning, I quickly realized the greatjournalism community that surrounded us locally and nationally. I knew we werefighting the good fight on behalf of our school, the community and thejournalism field, and I hope our newspaper’s success in overcoming censorshipcan motivate others to push back against those that try to silence the voices ofothers.”
He said that with the assistance of Curran, faculty adviser Sherri Siwekand the newspaper staff, “it was an amazing journey that gave me theopportunity to learn why it is crucial we protect the rights of thepress.”
Principal Moran received the administrator award for refusing to censorThe Squall despite fierce attacks from community members who claimed thepaper was printing content inappropriate for its school-age audience. Unrestover the content resulted in the creation of anonymous blog distorting thecontent of The Squall as “tabloid journalism,” and calls forthe school district to strip the students of autonomy over editorialjudgments.
The controversy prompted the Dexter school board to review the publicationpolicies for The Squall, which limit the school’s authority to censorstudent speech. The board declined to remove the “public forum”designation protecting student publications, a balanced approach that allowsstudents to make editorial content decisions as long as what they publish is notunlawful or substantially disruptive of school.
“I believe that journalism in America is crucial to ourdemocracy,” said Moran, a longtime English teacher and coach who has beenprincipal at Dexter since 2006. “A free society needs a free press. Thisisn’t new, but allowing this concept to be played out in high school may seem abit radical. However, if we teach our students sound journalistic methods andethics and allow them to act as journalists, we provide a rich and robustenvironment for their education.”
Moran, who holds degrees from Central Michigan University and EasternMichigan University, was also honored as the Michigan Interscholastic PressAssociation’s Administrator of the Year for 2010.
LoMonte said Moran’s understanding of the educational value ofstudent journalism should serve as an example to other schooladministrators.
“Kit Moran is the principal that every student deserves — someone who understands that the path of least resistance is not the path to agreat education,” LoMonte said. “At least Dexter is one high schoolthat doesn’t have to ‘wait for Superman,’ because he’salready there.”
He continued: “We have seen politically motivated scare campaignssucceed in districts with weak leaders who knuckle under at the first sign ofcontroversy. Mr. Moran didn’t knuckle under, and because of his fortitudeand that of the superintendent and school board, The Squall is still aforum for the honest and informed discussion of student views.”
The Courage in Student Journalism Awards will be presented at the NationalScholastic Press Association/Journalism Education Association convention inKansas City before an audience of thousands of high school journalists andadvisers. Each award carries a $1,000 cash prize, made possible by thegenerosity of the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State.
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 on its website at www.splc.org.