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Stevenson High School

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What’s happening at Stevenson High School reminds me a lot of what happened at Hazelwood East High School in the 1980s. Controversial stories like the ones in the most recent issue of the Statesman at Stevenson, including one on teen pregnancy, also appeared in the Spectrum at Hazelwood East in 1983.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said in a quote in the Chicago Tribune today that the stories in the Statesman were “balanced, responsible and mild.” So were the stories in the Spectrum.

It’s frightening to think that almost 28 years after the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision that we have made little progress in educating administrators to realize there is nothing educationally sound about censoring “balanced, responsible and mild” content in scholastic publications.

School newspapers across the country in the 1970s and prior to the Hazelwood case in the 1980s covered sensitive and controversial issues in a responsible manner. The Kirkwood Call, the newspaper I advised, had reported on all the topics the Spectrum covered prior to 1983 without any censorship threat from the administration. I realized I was blessed to work with great administrators during my teaching career.

Now, however,there are advisers and students in a lot of states who shy away from covering anything controversial because of fear of administrators cracking down. At Stevenson High School, administrators decided to stop publication of today’s issue when the students on the newspaper staff decided to leave a blank space where a story on teenage drinking was supposed to go. The writer of the story had quoted two students anonymously. Administrators apparently wanted to know who the students were, but the paper’s staff decided to go with a blank space rather than reveal its sources.

We must, as JEA members, come up with ways to educate administrators on the rights of students. Even in states that have passed laws to override the Hazelwood decision, censorship is still happening.

Maybe it’s time we asked all former recipients of JEA’s Administrator of the Year award to band together and help us win the battle against censorship. When it’s happening with publications that have been by policy or practice operating as public forums, then it’s obvious we need to step up our efforts to educate administrators.

Most student publications I see are practicing responsible journalism. They’re not causing a disruption of the educational processes with what they print, and they’re not printing articles that would cause legal problems.  It’s time to eliminate administrative censorship when articles are “balanced, responsible and mild.”

If you have ideas as to steps JEA might take to solve this problem, contact John Bowen, JEA’s Student Press Rights Commission chair. Let’s work together to win this battle.

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