A researcher at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, surveyed public high school administrators about their First Amendment knowledge this fall and discovered that administrators may, in fact, know more than they think about the First Amendment.
However, Audrey Wagstaff Cunningham, assistant professor, said when tested on their knowledge of specific attributes, the majority did not have sufficient knowledge about the reporting of minors, nor did they understand the limits of administrative control over seemingly “inappropriate” content produced in a student publication.
Finally, many of the administrators surveyed did not recognize the public forum status available to student publications. This suggests that administrators may not fully understand the free speech rights of students as defined in major cases like Tinker v. Des Moines.
Likewise, if they know about Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, they may apply their knowledge incorrectly. In addition, administrators who are less knowledgeable about the First Amendment as it pertains to students are also more likely to try to censor students’ work.
“Many scholars and educators interested in scholastic journalism,” Cunningham writes in the paper, “have suggested that the censorship problem begins in schools, and is fueled by poor understanding of First Amendment freedoms (Student Press Law Center, 2006). This study, despite several findings being statistically insignificant, is meant to help illuminate the path to better understanding the administrative censorship phenomenon.”
You can download Wagstaff-Cunningham’s paper, which was accepted by JEA’s Certification Commission as her MJE requirement, here.
by Tom Gayda
I’ve been lucky. Maybe even spoiled. Both of the principals I have worked for in my 14 years as an adviser have been named JEA Administrator of the Year.
Does this mean we agree on everything? No. What it means is they have trusted my students (and as an extension, me) to do their jobs free of prior review or heavy-handedness too many programs suffer from.
Evans Branigan III in his office at North Central. Branigan is JEA’s Administrator of the Year.
Evans Branigan III started as a social studies teacher and football coach at North Central. Before long he was an assistant principal and eventually the associate principal. For the last three years he was principal of the school. He has attended a half-dozen JEA/NSPA conventions, constantly showing his support for what we do.
And while that is nice, it’s the way he works with the students that is most important, and that is what helps create a great relationship between the principal and staff. Branigan has gone to Dave and Busters to have a relaxed interview with the newspaper staff. He has played cornhole after school for a website feature. His door is always open to students. Branigan has fun with it, too, often letting me know who his current favorite reporter is.
I suppose it is part luck. I know of administrators who are not friends of scholastic journalism. I think it’s time to forget them and focus on the ones who get it. Perhaps by constantly showcasing the great administrators the bad ones will start to change their tune. Or, make a less-than-friendly administrator a supporter by giving them no other choice. Share stories of successful programs with appropriate relationships. Kill them with our own version of kindness. Don’t wage a war — that won’t work. Be a constant pest with positivity.
One builds trust by having a strong program that has a history of doing the right thing. Mistakes are made and disagreements take place, but by creating an environment where staffs and administrators work together keeps communication healthy and open.
Fourth in a series
The post on administrative support is the fourth in a series of blogs that will run each Wednesday. Topics discussed, in order, will include FOIA, news literacy, journalism education, positive relationships with administrators, prior review, Making a Difference and private school journalism. We hope you will enjoy them. If you have other topics you feel we should address, please let us know.