FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Frank D. LoMonte, executive director
703.807.1904 / firstname.lastname@example.org
The recipients are the staff of The Red Pen, an independent newspaper at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Ky., and James Yoakley, the former newspaper and yearbook adviser at Lenoir City High School, Tenn., who has since been reassigned to teach seventh-grade English teacher at Lenoir City Middle School.
The awards are given annually to student journalists and school officials who have demonstrated exceptional fortitude in defending freedom of the press. The Courage award is co-sponsored by the Student Press Law Center, the National Scholastic Press Association, and the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University, which underwrites a $500 cash prize plus travel expenses for the winners. The awards will be presented on Nov. 17 at the National High School Journalism Convention in San Antonio.
The Red Pen was the brainstorm of student staffers at duPont Manual’s official student publication, The Redeye, who became frustrated with edicts from their principal to refrain from mentioning topics that might cause controversy, including homosexuality. The students even were forbidden from publishing a news story about the arrest and firing of a teacher whose removal was already well-publicized in the local media.
The students – Zoe Schaver, Patrick Hartel, Emily McConville, Kelsey McKim, Dakota Sherek and Virginia Johnson – used their own off-campus time to build a website, www.theredpen.org, and raised the money to distribute a print version.
Schaver, one of six student organizers, said, “Our teachers prepared us so well for journalism in the real world. So when we, The Red Pen’s editors, all joined school publications and ran, time and time again, up against an administration that was highly uncomfortable with most kinds of controversy, we decided that as journalists our duty was to create a way we could report on those crucial, if controversial, topics—despite the influences of a conservative administration. The Red Pen was essentially a product of all we had learned as journalism students—all we had learned about the true purpose of journalism, including that fulfilling this purpose was vital to the existence of an open, fair society.”
Schaver credits the assistance she and the staff received from the SPLC during the transition: “We read up on the issue on the SPLC’s website, learning what we needed to do to avoid being punished by that same administration we were circumventing.”
SPLC Executive Director Frank D. LoMonte said, “The Red Pen is simply one of the highest quality ‘underground’ publications you will ever see. Through their determination, these students conclusively proved three things. First, they proved that you can give a student audience uncensored news about topical issues without the sky falling. Second, they proved that censorship always fails, because it’s impossible in the 21st century to keep information under wraps. And third, they proved that students are often more mature and blessed with better judgment than the people in charge of their schools.”
Yoakley was named the non-student winner of the “Courage” award for his outspoken defense of press freedom in the face of two nationally publicized censorship incidents. First, administrators refused to allow the editor-in-chief of the newspaper to publish an opinion column about how atheists felt ostracized at the school. Then, the school board and superintendent publicly vilified students for publishing a first-person yearbook story, in which a student told his story about coming out as gay to his parents.