Stevenson High School: Students have 'earned' ability to publish without prior review

ILLINOIS — Aftermore than two years and the resignation of almost the entire newspaper staff, StevensonHigh School has ended administrative prior review of the The Statesman.

The March 8 issue will be the first issue released without reviewby school administrators.

The StatesmanEditor-in-Chief Kelly Bauer said she was on staff for one semester before priorreview was implemented.

“I just think that it’s amazing, because my staff has workedreally hard to regain [the administration’s] trust and to keep communicationopen,” she said, “so that they would be able to see that prior review isn’tnecessarily the best for The Statesman.”

“They said they had noted a new professionalism in ourstaff,” Bauer said.

Jim Conrey, Stevenson spokesman, said the students havefollowed and accepted changes to the journalism curriculum this past year.

“We had to clarify some issues, ranging from deadlines toproper sourcing of stories,” he said. “[As for] all those concerns we had acouple years ago, the current staff has done a great job of meeting thoseneeds. So it made it clear to us that they’ve earned the opportunity to nothave to worry about prior review at this point.”

Bauer said the student editors met with the school board atthe beginning of the year to explain the process that goes into each issue of The Statesman.

“They said that knowing all those steps and seeing what carewe put into every little aspect of the paper showed them that they could trustus,” she said.

Conrey said “his understanding” of the review process for The Statesman is the teacher of thenewspaper publication course, Andrew Bouque, will have “sole responsibility”for looking over each issue before it is published. When asked if communicationarts director Joe Flanagan, who previously reviewed each issue while thestudents were under prior review, will review any forthcoming issues of thenewspaper, Conrey said no.

Frank LoMonte, executive director at the Student Press Law Center, said Stevenson still has away to go to in protecting the student’s First Amendment rights.

“Any movement toward ending prior review of The Statesman is encouraging, but nobodyat Stevenson High School — not the administration and not the school board —has ever publicly apologized or atoned for the disgraceful way that studentswere mistreated last school year,” he said. “It’s certainly a start to get theadministration out of the newsroom, but it’s discouraging to hear the schoolspeak in terms of ‘earning’ freedom from prior review.”

The newspaper published a series of articles in January 2009that discussed “hooking up.” In response, the administration implemented priorreview in February 2009, though they said they had concerns with The Statesman prior to the Januaryissue. David Noskin, the then-communication arts director, was required toreview each issue before it was published.

The Statesman wonthe National Scholastic Press Association Pacemaker award in 2005 and 2007,under the direction of then-adviser Barbara Thill. In April 2009, Thillresigned from her position as adviser.

The following November, the administration refused to printan issue due to articles about the school’s substance abuse policy, teenagepregnancy and shoplifting. The student journalists decided to publish a blankfront page in response, but administrators rejected that as well.

Students were then told their grades were dependent on thepublication of an issue with administrative-approved content only. They werenot allowed to remove their bylines or include an editor’s note.

In December 2009, an article about prescription drug use andbirth control pill use was also spiked by the administration. That time, ablank page and an editor’s note were published.

Through the Student Press Law Center, the students obtainedlegal help from Gabriel Fuentes, a Chicago attorney with Jenner & BlockLLP. However, the students said they were not able to gain any concessions.Editors at the time said one thing they were seeking was clarification of whenthe prior review policy would be implemented.

Conrey said there was no official policy put in place foradministrative prior review.

“It was not something that required policy approval by theschool board,” he said. “It was simply an administrative thing.”

Soon after speaking out at a school board meeting thatDecember, during which board members said, “TheStatesman is not a ‘public forum,’” 11 of 14 staff members left the paper,including managing editor Evan Ribot and editor-in-chief Pamela Selman.

Bauer said it was difficult to be made editor in chief afterthe staff shrunk to four students responsible for a 12-page newspaper everyfour weeks. But, she said, the administration has been working to get rid ofthe prior review policy.

“Some people who have gotten misconceptions about ouradministration might view them the wrong way,” she said, “but I would say thatthe administration has worked to remove this just as hard as Statesman staffershave in the last year.”

LoMonte said the staff of The Statesman has never done anything wrong.

“Let’s be very clear. It is Stevenson High School that haslied to the public and violated the First Amendment, and it is theadministration and school board of Stevenson that should be trying to earn backthe public’s trust.”