In May 2023, the students of Kirkwood High School in Missouri released their yearbook like always. But this time, its contents caused so much community backlash it got national and even international media attention.
The spreads in question covered hook-up culture, drugs and alcohol. Some parents were upset by this and called for the school to intervene, despite the district’s longstanding support for student press freedom and editorial independence for student publications. Thankfully, the school and district stood by the students, despite the controversy. The Student Press Law Center commends their courage and dedication to empowering student voices!
Below is a letter SPLC’s Executive Director Gary Green penned to Kirkwood Principal Dr. Michael Havener and Kirkwood District Superintendent Dr. David Ulrich thanking them for their staunch support of student journalists.
Dear Dr. Ulrich and Dr. Havener,
On behalf of the Student Press Law Center, I am writing to thank you for your district’s unyielding support of student journalists and student press freedom, especially in recent weeks.
It is the unfortunate truth that support of student voices does not always withstand the moments of adult reaction. Kirkwood High School has long believed in the independence of student media and the need for students to make their own decisions and weather the outcomes. That alone is all too rare. In the face of controversy, many administrators silence their students while claiming to support them.
You have done the opposite. You not only reaffirmed your commitment to supporting the independence of your student journalists; you also helped educate the public about how the First Amendment works. That is what it truly means to support student journalists. That is what student press freedom and a real civics education looks like.
The award-winning student journalists of Kirkwood High School are lucky to have teachers and administrators who believe so fully in their capacity to be journalists — in all its moments of glory and of challenge. This support is not new and it shows. The KHS journalism program is legendary within high school student media and has been recognized for decades as one of the top programs in the country. You have exemplified what it means to truly support student voices, and we thank you for standing in such strong support of your students.
We have also been thrilled to see so many parents and other adults speaking in support of student voices, and in the rights of students to discuss the issues that matter to them — even when that can prompt uncomfortable discussions and strong emotions. We hope they will continue to support student voices, and to listen to what students say.
We commend you for all you have done to support student journalists, and hope that administrators nationwide will follow your lead. We stand ready to help you continue this support in any way we can.
SPLC Executive Director
Missouri isn’t a New Voices state, but advocates are working hard to change that! If you’re a Missouri resident and believe students should be empowered rather than censored, join the movement!