Ill. school censors student paper's story on fired basketball coach

ILLINOIS — Studentjournalists at St. Charles East High School were blocked from publishing astory about the removal of the school’s popular basketball coach.

The story was scheduled to run in the May issue of X-Ray, the student newspaper at St.Charles East, but did not make it through the principal’s prior review process.Administrators and student editors offered differing reasons as to why.

Corinne Thornton, former editor in chief and a 2011 graduate,said she was told the school district’s lawyers reviewed the story and found it“unsafe.” Principal Bob Miller said he stopped the story because it wasinaccurate.

Boys basketball coach Brian Clodi was fired in April aftereight years as coach. According to the local Daily Herald newspaper, the decision angered boosters and prompteda rally of about 100 students in support of the coach. Clodi did not receive afavorable review but will retain his job as a teacher at the school, the Herald reported.

Though details of the incident were widely reported in localmedia, Thornton said her staff wanted to write their own story for the upcomingissue of X-Ray.

The newspaper’s normal practice is to submit a list of storytopics to Miller for his review. He then asks to review particular storiesbefore the newspaper goes to press. Miller said he reviewed the story about thecoach and found it “inappropriate.”

“The reason why it was not appropriate was because some ofthe information that was contained in the student article was not factual,”Miller said. “And that’s all I have to say about it.”

Thornton and adviser Laura Smith, however, said Miller toldthem the district’s lawyers reviewed the story and decided the newspaper couldnot report on confidential personnel matters.

“They said the school paper is not the grounds to discuss apersonnel, confidential matter,” Thornton said.

Smith said she asked the district’s spokesman, Jim Blaney,to review and offer suggestions on the story. Thornton and Smith said thoserevisions were still not acceptable to administrators.

Blaney, however, denies ever seeing the story.

“I did not see the article about Mr. Clodi,” he said. “I didnot see it.”

Mike Hiestand, consulting attorney with the Student PressLaw Center, said he reviewed the story and found no legal problems with it.

“If the story’s factually inaccurate, the fix for it isfixing the facts, not censoring it,” Hiestand said.

Hiestand agreed there are limits to what a public employercan disclose about its employees, but said those laws are not applicable when astudent newspaper uncovers the information on its own.

Smith said she originally questioned the need for a storybecause it had been so widely covered by other media outlets.

“I guess I would say I definitely thought that they had theright intentions,” she said. “And that the story was information that wasalready out there in the community.”

Instead of the story, written by sports editor StephenMason, the students ran an unsigned editorial about the important qualities ofa new coach. They also ran a large photo of a student rally supporting Clodi.

Miller is leaving St. Charles East as principal at the endof the school year. Smith said she is already working with her students on waysto create a positive relationship with incoming principal Charlie Kyle.

Thornton said she wants to put the ordeal behind her. Shewill attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the fall.

“Before this year I took the freedom of speech very much forgranted,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh it’s just one of those things where ithappens once in a while.’ Censorship only happens in once in a while. Afterthis year I realized how important it is and how easily a student like me justcan feel so powerless.”