Administrators lift prior review of Pa. student newspaper

PENNSYLVANIA — Days before the Indian Post staff at Unionville High School were to hand in theyear’s first issue to administration under its prior review policy, theyreceived some big news: The policy had been lifted.

The prior review started in the spring after the paperreported on a theft during school hours that resulted in a student’s arrest.Though not mentioned by name in the March article,school officials said the student was indirectly identifiable and subsequentlyimposed prior review on the newspaper.

Laura Booth, former co-editor-in-chief of the Indian Post alongside Tara Takoushain,said “communication problems” with the outgoing superintendent made itdifficult to resolve the issue, but new Superintendent John C. Sanvillediscussed the prior review with Jack Bubes and Laura Kelly, currentco-editors-in-chief.

“When we talked to him, he was really open and his wholething was he wanted more communication with the administration and the Indian Post staff,” Bubes said. “I thinkhe was a big part of the change of the policy.”

Kelly said the summer transitions made it easier to discussthe policy.

“Last year there were emotions involved, and everyone waskind of upset,” she said. “So this year, I think it was easier for us honestlyto get through to them and be able to sit there and really talk it out.”

The paper, which is an after-school activity for thestudents, distributed a one-time independent edition, The Outpost, drawing attention to the conflict with the school inMay. The staff printed one four-page issue of the Indian Post under prior review in June, typically when staffleadership transitions to the fall editors.

Kelly and Bubes had a meeting with Sanville, Principal PaulaMassanari and the Indian Post’s twoadvisers once school started this year. Bubes said everyone was “veryunderstanding,” and Kelly said it felt like they were “talking rather thanbeing talked to.”

“We brought out a bunch of policy statements from otherschools and asked them if they could consider not having prior review at allbecause we thought that we deserved the responsibility and we could really do agood job being completely student run,” Kelly said. “I guess it turned out theylistened.”

The editors weren’t informed the prior review was lifted foranother week. Massanari met with them and asked why they were passionate aboutnot having prior review.

“As we both said our case, she just kind of dropped it on ussaying, ‘Well we’ve decided not to have prior review anymore,” Kelly said.“Quite a surprise.”

Massanari and Sanville did not respond to multiple requestsfor comment.

Booth, currently in her first semester at ColumbiaUniversity, said she thinks the reversal was aided by an invitation to visitthe Washington Post newsroom inAugust from Craig Whitlock, a former IndianPost staff member and current national security staff writer. Severalstudents and two school board members attended.

Booth said Whitlock talked about how the national securitydesk kept the government informed of the stories it covers. If the governmentcan convince the staff a news article threatened people’s lives, they might amendthe article but almost never would they withhold publication.

“I think there are some interesting parallels there wherewith the article in question, we did go to our administration beforehand and doan interview with them,” Booth said. “I just thought it was a learningexperience certainly, but when the staff interviewed the administration, thatwas the point where if there was going to be a red flag raised, that was thetime to do it, and there was none.”

Kelly and Bubes both said the past few months have taughtthem how to approach challenges facing newspapers.

“This whole process has been really eye-opening, and ifanything it has helped us as journalists to see what you can be up against todefend our rights,” Kelly said.

Reflecting on events since she graduated, Booth supportedthe paper’s resolution of the situation.

“I’m congratulatory toward the new staff, and they heldtheir ground in a manner that was respectful,” she said. “I hope that thetradition of a free speech student paper continues at Unionville the way thatit should.”