Inglemoor and Lyman student journalists win 2022 high school press freedom awards

white logo saying SPLC and Student Press Law Center on a bright blue background

The Student Press Law Center is pleased to honor two inspiring student news organizations with its 2022 high school awards. SPLC recognizes the Nordic News at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore, Washington, for the staff’s courage in reporting, and it commends The Greyhound yearbook staff and student Sara Ward at Lyman High School in Longwood, Florida, for their student press freedom advocacy.

SPLC presented the awards on Saturday, Nov. 12, at the fall National High School Journalism Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. The recipients were selected by an advisory committee of journalists and journalism educators, including Logan Aimone, journalism teacher at University of Chicago Laboratory High School and SPLC board member; Ellen Austin, retired high school journalism teacher; Candace Perkins Bowen, director of the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University; Steven Holmes, former ​​executive director of standards and practices at CNN and SPLC board member; and Hadar Harris, SPLC executive director.

“Both honorees are excellent examples of student journalists going to extraordinary lengths — despite administrators standing in their way — to be able to tell important stories of their schools and of their lives,” Harris said. 

Courage in Student Journalism Award

Photo of Mireya Avalos, Kellen Hoard and Tammi Tran.
(From Left) Mireya Avalos, Kellen Hoard and Tammi Tran.

The staff of the Nordic News at Inglemoor High School — including former editors Kellen Hoard, Mireya Avalos and Tammi Tran — received the 2022 Courage in Student Journalism Award for their exemplary efforts challenging Northshore School District’s unofficial policy restricting school employees from speaking with reporters.

In January, former Northshore district communications director Lisa Youngblood Hall sought to enforce an unwritten policy that any Nordic News interviews with district or school staff — including principals and teachers at Inglemoor — required her permission and close supervision. The editors mobilized after learning of this, seeking to protect their ability to report on issues within their school and to protect the school staff’s free speech rights. 

The editors consulted with SPLC’s legal hotline and persisted behind the scenes for weeks until Youngblood Hall met with them. They also submitted a public records request for emails about the issue, and they published an editorial calling for a written district policy affirming that journalists did not need permission from the communications director to interview school or district employees and that those employees do not need to seek or receive her permission. 

Youngblood Hall, who has since left the district, agreed to rescind the policy as to school-level staff, allowing principals and teachers at Inglemoor to speak freely again with the Nordic News. District staff are now considering the editors’ proposed new district policy before taking it to the school board. 

Kellen, Mireya and Tammi and the staff of the Nordic News are exceptional role models for student journalists across the country.

SPLC Executive Director Hadar Harris

For their support of the students on this work, Nordic News adviser Joanna Little earned the Washington Journalism Education Association’s 2022 Fern Valentine Freedom of Expression Award for advisers, and Inglemoor principal Adam Desautels was named WJEA’s 2022 Administrator of the Year.

“Kellen, Mireya and Tammi and the staff of the Nordic News are exceptional role models for student journalists across the country,” said SPLC executive director Hadar Harris. “They knew they needed to be able to speak freely with school staff to independently and fully report on important issues at their school, and they did not take no for an answer. Generations of students in the Northshore School District will benefit from their work. The Student Press Law Center is hopeful the district will follow through on its commitment to enact a policy that protects the rights of school staff to speak with journalists, including the Nordic News.”

Kellen, Mireya and Tammi said they hoped other student journalists would become catalysts for transparency in their own schools and districts.

“Work to defend the principles of the First Amendment so often goes unnoticed, and though we certainly did not begin our efforts with the goal of this recognition, we are grateful nonetheless,” they said in a joint statement. “The problems we faced in protecting the rights of teachers and administrators were frustrating, confusing and disheartening, but we hope our success — as well as awareness brought through awards like this — encourage other journalists to tackle problems of that nature head-on. 

“We also hope that this award will not only provide further momentum to efforts for press freedom in Northshore School District, but also provide an impetus for districts around the nation to reconsider restrictive student press policies. … We are proud to play a part in supporting the voices of any who are voiceless, because that is what journalists do.”

The Courage in Student Journalism Award is awarded annually to a high school news organization or student journalists who speak truth to power and demonstrates outstanding reporting that makes an impact on their community. The Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University is the presenting sponsor of the award, in partnership with SPLC and the National Scholastic Press Association. Kent State also provides a $1,000 prize to the winner.

Student Press Freedom Award

Photo of Sara Ward with her award plaque and SPLC executive director Hadar Harris.
Sara Ward with SPLC executive director Hadar Harris.

Student Sara Ward and the staff of The Greyhound yearbook at Lyman High School received SPLC’s 2022 Student Press Freedom Award for fighting back against censorship by school officials of their yearbook in spring 2022, and for Ward’s ongoing advocacy to ensure student press freedom for all students in Seminole County. The award, in its inaugural year, recognizes brave advocacy on behalf of a free student press.

Seminole County Public School administrators canceled distribution of The Greyhound in May and demanded the staff cover with stickers a two-page spread reporting on a student-led walkout protesting Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The students contacted SPLC’s free legal hotline and launched a public campaign to #stopthestickers, which culminated in making their case to the Seminole County School Board.

Faced with compelling testimony from student editor Sara Ward and other students, faculty and community members, the school board ultimately rescinded the school’s order to cover up the spread. Instead, they offered to pay out of their own pockets for small unobtrusive stickers clarifying that the walkout was not a school-sponsored activity, which was one of the rationales offered for the censorship. 

Now a senior, Ward has continued to advocate for a free student press. She returned to the Seminole County School Board to urge them to update the district’s student media policy to clarify the right of student journalists to editorial independence.

“The students at Lyman High School have demonstrated to student journalists nationwide what fighting for press freedom looks like,” Harris said. “The Student Press Law Center is proud to honor their courage, and continues to support them in their efforts to ensure they remain able to do good journalism, document the life of the school and fully and honestly capture the experience of being a Seminole County high school student.”

  • Sara Ward and Hadar Harris at a podium.
  • Photo of Sara Ward giving her speech in front of a large crowd at NHSJC in St. Louis.

Ward said she and her staff are humbled and honored to accept the award. 

“Our journey was long and challenging, and although the fight is far from over, we are thrilled to celebrate this victory,” Ward said. “Ultimately, we were outraged at the threat to erase a significant moment from Lyman’s history. We spoke out for the freedom of speech, for the freedom of press, and for the freedom of loving authentically. Receiving this award is validation that we made a difference, but there’s still more progress to be made, especially in Florida. We continue to fight to represent all members of the community despite the threats of continued censorship.”

SPLC’s Student Press Freedom Award is a new honor in 2022 to recognize high school journalists for brave advocacy on behalf of a free student press.

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has worked to support, promote and defend the First Amendment and freedom of expression rights of student journalists at the high school and college level, and the advisers who support them. The SPLC is an independent, non-profit 501c(3) organization based in Washington, D.C.