Memo to America’s high school principals: Be very, very careful whose First Amendment rights you step on. One day, you may wake up and find that student editor is your boss.
And that day may come sooner than you think.
Aaron Brant, editor-in-chief of The Oracle at Pennsylvania’s Rochester Area High School, emerged victorious in Tuesday’s primary for one of five seats on the board of the Rochester Area School District. Winning the primary equates to winning a term on the board, since only five candidates will be on the November ballot.
“Let this victory show every student, every journalist, and every citizen, that you have a voice, you have a say, and you have the responsibility to take a stand for what’s right,” the 18-year-old senior said in a written statement. “This is only the first step of a new beginning at the Rochester Area School District.”
Brant has been at odds with Principal David Vezendy and Superintendent Carolyn Wilkovich over the school’s insistence that student journalists cannot conduct public-opinion surveys without prior approval from the district, a “rule” that Brant says appears nowhere in writing. Subsequently, Brant reported that he was threatened with discipline for passing out business cards promoting his candidacy to students between classes, provoking a warning letter from the ACLU of Pennsylvania that the school was treading on dangerous First Amendment ground.
Not every censored student can mount a successful run for school board, but all of them can get involved in local campaigns and can pin down the candidates about where they stand on student rights. As for the Rochester Area School District, every administrator has been awakened to the reality that respect for students is suddenly a prerequisite for job security.