Student editors finalize agreement with D.C. principal about attempted prior review policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last Friday, the editors of the Wilson Beacon at Woodrow Wilson High School came to an agreement with their principal to end a planned prior review policy.

Erik Wemple at the Washington Post reported on Friday afternoon that the paper’s co-editors in chief, Erin Doherty and Helen Malhotra, presented their amended editorial standards to Principal Kimberly Martin and she agreed to completely drop the prior review policy.

Martin, who is in her first year as principal of the D.C. high school, had asked the Beacon to implement a quote-checking policy and strengthen article-review requirements after her original policy to review every article before publication herself sparked controversy and backlash throughout the city.

In an initial softening of the policy, Martin said stories would be reviewed by either the paper’s staff advisers or herself.

Now, any review of articles will not go higher than the paper’s advisers, Wemple reported.

“It’s so exciting to know that we don’t have to worry about that and that we can kind of go back to actual content in the paper rather than our relationship with this woman,” Doherty told Wemple.

For more on the controversy and the end result, the Student Press Law Center’s executive director Frank LoMonte will be on D.C. public radio station WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show on Thursday at 1 p.m. EST with two of the Beacon’s editors to discuss the situation.

It’s important to note that Washington, D.C. is one of the few places in the country that provides added legal protection for high school journalists against administrative censorship. After North Dakota passed an anti-Hazelwood law this spring that guaranteed the free-speech rights of student journalists in the state’s public schools and colleges, more states have been looking into passing similar laws.

The Student Press Law Center tracks state-by-state laws and provides information on how to get involved to protect student press rights on its Cure Hazelwood page.