Kan. adviser resigns in protest after principal refuses to allow police report in newspaper

KANSAS — AndaleHigh School’s journalism adviser has resigned in protest after she refused torewrite or pull a controversial student newspaper article about analcohol-related car crash.

Two 16-year-old students were hospitalized after the Januarycrash, which is listed as a DUI in a police report, according to the local Clarion newspaper. The wreck became thecenter of student attention, said journalism adviser Pilar Pedraza, whoobtained a copy of the report for the student newspaper.

The Arrowheadstaff met to discuss the implications of mentioning alcohol in their storyabout the crash. Pedraza discussed ethics, morals and Kansas’ studentexpression law with the students before their meeting. She then left the roomto let the newspaper staff discuss the issue, and to tell Principal Stanley Mayabout the publication of the article.

Student reporter Kayla Albert told The Clarion that after Pedraza met with May, he called the studentsinto his office.

“He wanted us to have it take a different direction and notinclude the alcohol and everything, but he wanted it to be more about safedriving and everything,” Albert told TheClarion. “And so in our decision that we made, we figured it would be ineverybody’s best interest to write about safe driving and not include thealcohol because of the fact that we didn’t know what the reaction would be fromall the students and parents and teachers and everything.”

Pedraza said May asked her to rewrite the story beforemeeting with students. Pedraza said she would not violate the law and that Maywas engaging in prior restraint.

Kansas is one of seven states with laws that specificallyprohibit censorship of student publications, unless the content is illegal orwould substantially disrupt school.

Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMontesaid the principal doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t to be published.

“It’s fine for the principal to give an opinion, if it’sclear it’s just advice,” LoMonte said. “If the advice comes across as an order,then it violates Kansas law.”

Pedraza said she resigned from her teaching position andadviser of The Arrowhead in protest,“so that these kids would know somebody is wiling to stand up for theirrights.” Pedraza’s resignation was accepted at the Renwick USD 267 Board ofEducation’s February meeting.

“It came down to they [school administrators] wanted me topull the story because they didn’t like some of the information that was init,” Pedraza said. “I refused. I am confident that I know – having been ajournalist and having studied media law – there was no legal power to censorthe story.”

LoMonte said May doesn’t get to substitute his own ethicsand morals for state law.

“He doesn’t get to override legislation just because hedoesn’t think a story is a good idea,” LoMonte said. “What the principal did istake a truthful news story and make it incomplete and deceptive. That’s theopposite of teaching good principles.”

May said the police report should not be published in astudent newspaper because of individual students’ rights. Instead, he wantedthe article to focus on safe driving on gravel roads – which is what ultimatelyran in the newspaper.

“I didn’t want what was in the police report, something thathappened outside of school, to be published in a school newspaper without theconsent of parents,” May said. “The students came in and told me they werechanging the story to make it positive for everybody in the school.”

May said he reviewed the article before it went to press butdid not change anything.

“For me, the law can figure out who’s legal and who’s not,but morally and ethically, we need to do what’s best for kids,” May said. “Idon’t think we need to be publishing that [the police report] in the schoolnewspaper. It’s going to cause a substantial disruption for those two studentsplus we have some student rights to look out for.”

Students on the newspaper staff could not be reached forcomment after multiple attempts.

Pedraza said the police report provided insight and factsfor student reporter Albert. As a journalist, Pedraza said, students need torely on factual reports rather than school rumors.

“To me the First Amendment is something that is vitallyimportant to the future of this country and I see it all over the place beingeroded,” Pedraza said. “I think it was MLK who said, ‘All it takes forinjustice to survive anywhere is for one man to stay silent.’ In this case, Icouldn’t stay silent.”