Oregon high school stops student newspaper from distributing copies

OREGON — The Arrow student newspaper staff at Sherwood High School wasn’t allowed to pass out their original most recent issue because administrators were unhappy with a column one student wrote.

Co-Editor-in-Chief Parker Ward said administrators were upset with a column he wrote expressing his displeasure over the non-renewal of the lacrosse coach’s contract.

According to media reports, the lacrosse coach’s wife worked at the high school and is on paid leave while being investigated over allegations of sexual misconduct with a student. The coach was asked to step down, but refused. Later, his contract wasn’t renewed.

Ward, who is also a member of the lacrosse team, said he was asked by one of the school’s assistant principals, Brian Bailey, to make changes to his column and did so before it went to press. However, when Bailey saw the printed version before the April issue before the papers were distributed, he told the students they couldn’t give them out, Ward said.

Associate Principals Bailey and Ken Bell could not be reached for comment despite multiple attempts. Bell told The Oregonian that administrators “felt like the printing of this article would be a disruption to the educational environment.”

Co-Editor-in-Chief Talea Stashin said the newspaper staff is now having a “dispute” with administrators over the school’s prior review policy. Stashin has been on staff three years and said that typically, the staff submits a near-final version of the paper to administrators, who make comments. The staff doesn’t normally show the final version to administrators before it goes to press.

Now, Stashin said the staff has been told that because the paper is school-funded, administrators get the “final approval.”

“Obviously I don’t think it’s necessarily about prior approval,” Stashin said. Ward said he believes administrators just didn’t want the article printed.

After being told they couldn’t pass out their 800 original copies, the staff decided to reprint the issue with a different piece in place of Ward’s column. Editors also decided to talk with local media about what had happened.

Though Ward said Adviser Amy Jack didn’t agree with the students about speaking out about what happened over this particular column, Ward said he felt it was important to make a statement.

“We just wanted to kind of set a standard and put a message out there that they can’t do that and that that’s wrong,” he said.

Stashin said she felt the need to speak out because “it was the issue of censorship and of quieting a student voice.”

“We just want people to be aware of the situation because we feel like by making people aware and letting the administration know we’re not going to back down, hopefully incidents like this in the future don’t happen,” Stashin said.

Jack declined to comment for this article and directed questions to the school’s principal. Interim Principal Michelle DeBoard directed questions to Bell.

Stashin said she and Ward were frustrated by the school’s action, because it runs counter to what they’ve been taught about being journalists.

“We think that it completely undermines and disregards what they have been teaching us and educating us for,” Stashin said.

Karla Kennedy, Northwest Scholastic Press Association executive director, said she is familiar with the situation through media reports and believes it could have been handled better.

When administrators censor student speech, that hinders students’ efforts to become effective communicators and members of a democratic society, Kennedy said.

“To prevent them from being that is ludicrous and crazy … I think that’s not an intended output from administrators, but of course it is what happens,” Kennedy said.

Oregon has a Student Free Expression Law that enhances student journalists’ First Amendment rights. Under the law, administrators are not allowed to censor content unless it is libelous or slanderous, constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy, incites students to commit unlawful acts or causes a “material and substantial disruption” of the school day. However, students and administrators sometimes don’t understand the law well, especially with high administrative turnover, Kennedy said.

“There always has to be a constant education and reeducation of what’s going on in your state,” Kennedy said.

By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 125.