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Posted by on Jan 9, 2018 in Blog, Featured, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

A summary of SPRC

Forum status of student media
• If you’re developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials.

Prior review v. prior restraint
In brief, the Journalism Education Association has found prior review has no educational value. Instead, JEA believes it is simply the first step toward censorship and fake news. Prior review also contributes to self-censorship and lack of trust between students, advisers and administrators. Prior review conflicts with JEA’s adviser code of ethics.

What should go into an editorial policy? What should not?
Editorial policies are the foundations for your journalism program. Often short, these statements address forum status, who makes final decisions of content and prior review.

Student media policy may be the most important decision you make
Students should understand while they can and should adopt best legal practices and ethical guidelines for their publication, the school district’s or school board’s media policy (if one exists) could impact the legal and ethical decisions of student editors.

What do you do in the event of student faculty death?
It’s important to have a guideline in place before a student or staff member dies. Journalists should report a student or staff death in an objective, consistent manner that has been decided when the staff manual is being revised. Choosing what to publish at the time of any tragedy is not wise and can cause staffs to make choices that create problems in the future.

Balance and objectivity are key to reporting
Balance and objectivity don’t mean isolation and a lack of care about people and their stories.

They do mean trying to report all points of view as best you can and providing background and context for the story.

Free press –– why students should make all decisions of content
For students to prepare themselves for their roles in a democracy, they must be able to practice guarantees of the First Amendment, thus knowing they can make a difference.

Avoid senior quotes; give them to senior class for publishing
The question of using senior quotes in student media came up recently on JEA’s listserv. The Scholastic Press Rights committee would urge schools not to run them, but turn them over too the senior class as part of its responsibility.

Should student media publish senior superlatives?
Publishing senior superlatives, if seniors decide they are worthwhile at all, is one of those “traditions” best moved from student media to those who most clearly benefit – the senior class.

So your student media want to do senior wills?
Because senior wills have minimal journalistic value and great potential for damage, they should not be used in school publications.

The issues with April Fools coverage
April Fool’s issues are fake news and can damage student media’s credibility.

Yes, some find them acceptable, but their negatives far outweigh their positives. The ultimate question is are they worth the risks?

Allowing sources to preview content is ethically questionable
The newest reporter on staff chooses to cover the story about the Science Department’s new policy on studying animal life. To do so, she must interview the head about a new policy on studying animal life. It’s fairly controversial because People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is strongly opposed to dissection and the new curriculum for advanced biology includes that.

What to do if sources, including the expert, want to see the story ahead of time?

Takedown requests: When the right to preserve history conflicts with the desire to forget it
As more student newspapers move to digital platforms, editors and advisers are facing a new and insidious form of post-publication censorship: takedown requests.

The requests usually go something like this: “I was a student at [fill in name] high school [fill in number] years ago, and I was interviewed/wrote a story/was in a photo/made a comment that I regret now. I don’t want this showing up in Google searches. Please remove this story from your site.”

Publishing memes also means knowing copyright rules
Entertainment. Political statements. A way to comment on issues, events, people

And, if not done correctly, says Mark Goodman, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism, a way to violate the owner’s copyright. A violation several owners pursued.

Who should be on student media editorial boards, make decisions?
Because student media are productions of student work, only students should be on editorial boards of student media. That would include the general manager and producers of broadcast media.

The importance of staff editorials
Student editors are busy. In addition to leading their staffs, making publication decisions and helping reporters, they are likely also still reporting and creating their own news content — not to mention carrying a full academic high school load.

Covering controversy
Although some administrators would like for students to only publish “positive” stories, a journalist’s job is to watch and report on the school. This may involve students including stories that might make the school “look bad.”

Disturbing images: public’s right to know v. invasion of privacy
A 9-year-old girl, burning from napalm, runs naked down a Vietnam road. A vulture watches a Sudanese child, emaciated from famine, crawl across the ground. Two yellow-clad health workers carry a limp 8-year-old boy who might be infected with Ebola to a treatment facility.

Determine who owns student work before publication begins
Absent a written agreement indicating otherwise, student journalists own the copyright to the works they create. Each media outlet should ensure it has clear policies in place for staff members and the publication that spell out ownership and the right of the publication to use student work

The role of the adviser is multifold, but ethically, practically not a doer
The role of the adviser in student-run media incorporates teacher, coach, counselor, listener and devil’s advocate but not doer. We like the JEA Adviser Code of Ethics as guides for advisers.

That role means letting students make all decisions including content, context and grammar.

How can my school get involved in the New Voices campaign?
Almost a quarter of all states have now passed legislation protecting voice in student media, and instilling the virtues of the First Amendment as state statute for student media. North Dakota’s success in 2015 seemed to spark the latest fire that has seen legislative recognition of student speech in Illinois, Maryland, Vermont and Rhode Island.

Empowering student decision-making
The role of the adviser in student-run media incorporates teacher, coach, counselor, listener and devil’s advocate but not doer. We like the JEA Adviser Code of Ethics as guides for advisers

Responsibility in scholastic media starts with ethics, accuracy, complete story
Administrators may want student media that depicts the school in a positive light, that promotes good news and overlooks the negative.

Is this responsible journalism?

Advisers may want student media that reflects students’ technical proficiency such as mechanics, grammar and style. Little else matters.

Is this responsible journalism?

Decision-making for most student broadcasts protected same as print, online
As more schools expand their journalism programs to include broadcast and radio, it should be clear how Tinker and Hazelwood positively or negatively affect broadcast programs

The answer is: it depends.

If they go out over the broadcast airways, Federal Communications Commission regulations apply.

Muzzle Hazelwood with strong journalism status as an open public forum
Forum concept reinforced by Dean v. Utica Community schools decision

Dealing with unwanted, forced prior review?
JEA historically has opposed prior review of student media by school officials.

That opposition continues.

Prior review leads only to control, active censorship and iis the first step toward the spread of fake news and less than complete disinformation.

What, students have rights?  Since 1943
Before the Barnette decision,when students came into conflict with public schools, the courts decided their cases—often against the students—without mentioning students’ right. They considered if the punishment was excessive (beating with a rawhide strap was okay in 1859). They also debated if it was the parents’ right or the schools’ right to discipline the students. The First Amendment was never mentioned.

Journalism integrity guides student media
As scholastic media advisers and students develop policies and guidelines to guide them with journalism standards, they should note these words: The only thing students have to lose as journalists is their credibility.

Ethical guidelines for monitoring yearbook coverage
Arguably, the two biggest complaints most yearbook staffs hear are that a wide cross section of the school is not covered adequately, and quotes are not represented accurately. These are tough criticisms to hear, but staffs must consider the potential criticism while they create the book.

Equipment purchase does not men content control
It has long been understood that school purchase of equipment or provision of a room that is not the only factor in who controls the content.

There other factors, including a guiding court decision.

Ethical photo editing, visuals
Student media should avoid electronic manipulation that alters the truth of a photograph unless it is used as art. In that case it should be clearly labeled as a photo illustration.

Academic dishonesty lessens media effectiveness
Dishonesty compromises the integrity and credibility of the student publication. The editorial board and/or adviser should address any instance of academic misconduct immediately

Social media that works in high school classrooms
Social media has had such a profound effect on journalism that it’s sometimes hard to remember how traditional news functioned before it. Reading this 2009 MediaShift article is a powerful reminder that Twitter wasn’t always the source of breaking news. In fact, as author Julie Posetti wrote just eight years ago, “Some employers are either so afraid of the platform or so disdainful about its journalistic potential that they’ve tried to bar their reporters from even accessing Twitter in the workplace.”

Handling online comments
Deciding whether to accept online comments can be a tough decision they can carry a lot of baggage. How to review and verify them? How does refusing to run them affect your forum status?

And that’s only the first decision.

When sources don’t respond
The publication staff will provide every reasonable opportunity for sources to respond to a request for an interview. Students must first attempt to contact the source in person or through an administrative assistant. If the person is not available, they should attempt calling and leaving a message with a request for an in-person interview. If, after 24 hours, the source does not respond to the telephone call, staffers should send an email requesting an in-person interview with a clear deadline by which the staffer will include the line “the source did not respond to an interview request.”

The perks of being a wallflower: How a school district escaped a lawsuit by fostering an independent student press
Because Lexington High School students made all the editorial, business and staffing decisions for both the LHS Yearbook and the school paper, a suit against the district failed. The school’s superintendent, principal, the two publication advisers and the five school members of the school committee escaped unharmed from the suit that alleged they were violating the First and Fourteenth amendments when the school publications refused two ads.

Choosing topics for editorials
The best and most effective staff editorials are those that tackle an important topic and then give audiences a reason and a way to address it.

The importance of staff edits: critical thinking, leadership
Student editors are busy. In addition to leading their staffs, making publication decisions and helping reporters, they are likely also still reporting and creating their own news content — not to mention carrying a full academic high school load.

Given all of these responsibilities, it’s easy to see why writing an unsigned staff editorial might seem a lower priority than getting the next edition to print or finishing that great feature on the new student body president.

What is the process if someone wants to submit a guest commentary
Accepting guest commentaries, offered randomly, reinforces student media’s role as a public forum for student expression.

Letters or commentary can enhance public forum role
Publishing letters to the editor is another way of fulfilling student media’s forum obligations to engage audiences through journalistic responsibility.

That said, students should establish clear criteria for identifying the authors, receiving and verifying the information. Such viewpoint neutral guidelines do not violate the author’s free expression rights.

The process of deciding staff editorials
Keys to effective editorials include focused positions, credible sources and meaningful topics. If the topic is focused on issues and problems, strong editorials include a call to action or possible solutions.

“I wrote that just to get a grade:” Students should write what they believe
To ensure credibility, students should only write opinion stories that represent their beliefs. If, during the research phase, the student changes his or her mind, then the story should be reassigned or the content of the story be altered to reflect the change in view.

Interviewing ‘people on the street’
Four categories of sources exist: experts, authorities, knowledgeable and reactors (sometimes called bozos). The first three should be credible. The last not so much.

Why ask “what do you think about the tax levy?” if the person has no knowledge at all?

Students should ask permission to record before interviews begin and ethical reminders about interviewing
One of those areas easily overlooked is asking for permission to record interviews. Ethically — and in some states legally — students should always ask permission to record an interview.

Make it matter: Scholastic journalism must do more than give facts
How can student journalists keep their publications relevant when information spreads faster than they can report it?

Professional journalists have struggled with this problem for years. Before the advent of the internet and social media, news producers — whether newspaper, radio or broadcast — were citizens’ primary source of information. News consumers found out about terrorist attacks and new government policies when they opened the morning paper or turned on the evening news

Make it matter: Verification essential as journalists seek truth
One key component of every journalist’s ethical code is truth. Given that Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” their 2016 word of the year and the president has called venerable traditional news sources “fake news,” getting the facts right is more crucial than ever.

Verifying information is an essential part of the reporting process.

Respecting privacy and public space  important for photographers
Student journalists should never invade the privacy of others while accessing information or photos for a story.

However. it is their journalistic duty to know what constitutes invasion of privacy or what spaces they are legally allowed to access and what spaces they are not legally allowed to access.

Seeking visual truth is just as important as written truth
A reporter working on a story pauses from her transcription. “Hm,” she thinks. “This is a good quote, but my source could have said it so much better. I’ll just change it around and add a bit …”

By this point, responsible student journalists and their advisers are horrified. Of course you can’t change a source’s quote! Our job is to seek truth and report it, not to create fiction.

Consider emotional impact as well as news values when choosing images
When the editors of the Panther Prowler, the student-run school newspaper for Newbury Park High School, decided to write a feature article about teenagers having sex in 2015, they knew it was going to be controversial. The controversy wasn’t just about the content of the article, however — it was also about the image they paired with it, which appeared on the cover of their special edition magazine.

Since the article’s focus was the impact of limited sex education in and out of the classroom, the editors decided to use an iconic sex ed image: a condom on a banana.

Keeping ads and content separate
Student journalists should maintain a wall between promotional/paid content and journalistic content.

That historical wall should remain intact to help reassure audiences the content they receive is as thorough and complete as possible.

As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel say in The Elements of Journalism, journalists’ first loyalty is to the truth while maintaining an independence from those they report.

Handling controversial ads/content
Student media should not discriminate against advertising based on students’ personal beliefs.

For example, students should attempt to include advertisers from multiple perspectives. According to the federal court decision in Yeo v. Lexington, student editors have the right to reject advertisements and school administrators are not legally responsible for advertising decisions students make.

Handling sponsored content, native ads
Although it is quite possible scholastic media will never face making a decision to run material known as sponsored content or native ads, students and advisers should prepare guidelines just in case.

Sponsored content and native advertising, two media terms for paid materials, are becoming a fact of life for media and consumers. That said, student media, when faced with publishing them, should act carefully and with the best interests of the audience/consumer first.

Ad placement 
Newspapers used to keep in-depth, front page and opinion pages completely separated from advertising.

The thinking was the advertising and promotion of products should not appear to influence a newspaper’s editorial choices. They wanted to keep their most important pages dedicated to the content they deemed most important.

Political ads: Who can place an advertisement
Students make all content decisions, including those related to advertising, and maintain the right to reject any ads.

Student media do not necessarily endorse the products or services offered in advertisements. Students should strive to retain as much control of funds or services obtained from the sale of advertising, subscriptions or other student fundraisers as possible. All businesses should have a street address

Accepting ads from competing organizations
Students who sell ads sometimes hesitate to solicit advertising from competing companies. They sometimes have a loyalty to one of their clients or they believe their clients will be frustrated if their competitor is also advertising in the same publication.

This is a good problem to have. Too many advertisers want to support your publication, and you should encourage a forum for advertising that is as robust as your editorial content

















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Equipment purchase does not mean content control QT30

Posted by on Nov 13, 2017 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

It has long been understood that school purchase of equipment or provision of a room that is not the only factor in who controls the content.

There other factors, including a guiding court decision.

According to Antonelli v. Hammond, “We are well beyond the belief that any manner of state regulation is permissible simply because it involves an activity which is a part of the university structure and is financed with funds controlled by the administration. The state is not necessarily the unrestrained master of what it creates and fosters.”

Even though that was about a college situation, it is applicable to student media that receive state or federal funds for their student media.


Policy and Guidelines

Students in designated forums for student expression control content decisions for their student media regardless of who bought the equipment.

Question: When and why should student media take down content, in print or online?

Key points/action: Simply put, state/government involvement in providing funding and facilities for student media does not give content control.

Guidance comes from a college case, Antonelli v. Hammond,  308 F, Supp. 1329 (D. Mass, 1970).

Stance: Advisers and student staffs need to understand and make others aware of this point, even adding it to editorial policies if applicable.

Reasoning/suggestions: According to the decision, “We are well beyond the belief that any manner of state regulation is permissible simply because it involves an activity which is a part of the university structure and is financed with funds controlled by the administration. The state is not necessarily the unrestrained master of what it creates and fosters.”

ResourcesAntonelli v. Hammond,  308 F, Supp. 1329 (D. Mass, 1970). Print reference is also available on page 40 of the red edition of Law of the Student Press.

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package  that protects journalistically responsible student expression.




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Dealing with unwanted, forced prior review? QT26

Posted by on Oct 31, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by John Bowen, MJE

JEA historically has opposed prior review of student media by school officials.

That opposition continues.

Prior review leads only to control, active censorship and iis the first step toward the spread of fake news and less than complete disinformation. 

Students and advisers, though, may have no immediate choice but to be under prior review by school officials.

The question then becomes what might the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommend for consideration until adviser and students, and maybe school officials, create a way to trust and empower student decision-making and civic engagement as designated public forums.

Consider these possibilities:

As journalism teachers we know our students learn more when they make content choices. Prior review and restraint do not teach students to produce higher quality journalism or to become more journalistically responsible.

As journalism teachers we know the only way to teach students to take responsibility for their decisions is to train them and for that responsibility.

As journalism teachers we know democracy depends on students who understand all voices have a right to be heard and have a voice in their school and community.

Thus, to help students achieve professional standards, journalism educators should consider the following process:

  • Encourage transparency about who determines the content of a student publication by alerting readers and viewers when student media are subject to prior review and restraint;
  • Advocate for the educational benefits of student press freedom if student media are subject to prior review or restraint;
  • Provide students with access to sources of professional advice outside the school for issues they need to address;
  • Attempt to follow and support JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics;
  • Provide students with tools that include adequate knowledge and resources to successfully carry out their work. By using these tools, students build trust in the learning process and the theories on which it is based;
  • Encourage students to seek multiple points of view and to explore a variety of credible sources in their reporting and decision-making;
  • Coach instead of making decisions, modeli the value of the learning process and demonstrate the trust we place in our educational system;
  • Empower students to understand what journalistic responsibility requires and how to achieve credible journalism where prior review and restraint are not necessary;
  • Model a professional newsroom atmosphere where students share in and take responsibility for their work. In so doing, scholastic journalists increase dialogue and help ensure civic engagement;
  • Use peer editing to encourage student interaction, analysis and problem solving;
  • Instruct students about civic engagement and journalism’s role in maintaining and protecting our democratic heritage;
  • Showcase student media where the dissemination of information is unfiltered by prior review and restraint so the school’s various communities receive accurate, truthful and complete information.

While we know advisers will make decisions regarding prior review and other educational issues based on what they believe they can support philosophically, the SPRC reiterates its strong rejection of prior review, and hence prior restraint, as tools in the educational process.

Even though we offer tQuick Tip below as a temporary measure for those who face prior review or have no choice about prior review, this process is not a pathway to building stronger student media and ultimately more engaged citizens.


Quick Tips: When prior review is your only choice

Guideline:  While students and advisers, who have to operate under prior review, work toward changing that situation, they should also believe in, and support, those who practice journalism as a designated public forum.

Question: What policies should you negotiate when you are stuck with prior review?

Key points/action: JEA historically has – and does – oppose prior review by school officials. It is an unacceptable practice with no educational value. Prior review only leads to control, active censorship and the first steps toward fake news and less than complete disinformation.

It is possible, though, students and advisers have no immediate choice but to be under prior review by school officials.

The question then becomes what the SPRC would recommend until adviser, students and school officials, provide all involved (students, advisers, faculty, administrators, school board and communities) with a better learning environment than prior review.

Stance: While students and advisers work toward a no prior review goal, we would suggest these steps toward an alternative:

  • Student media are identified and practice as designated public forums for student expression where student editors and staff make all final decisions of content.
  • Before publishing or posting pages/broadcast/web materials, administrators have the length of a school day (the day they are given materials) to review content and to ask questions. Materials should be given in a timely manner.
  • All content must return to students’ hands at the end of the day, on schedule, for publication.
  • If administrators/school officials have questions, they may request meeting time within that day, which will not delay publication.
  • School officials may comment, ask questions or request changes.
  • All final decisions remain with the student journalists as they meet their deadlines. They can choose to heed school officials requests or suggestions or go with content as it was.

Reasoning/suggestions: If review is to help students learn and to identify areas of administrative concern rather than content control, this process should provide adequate opportunity for discussion and collaboration – and keep the journalistic process on track.

Student critical thinking, decision-making and application of learning objectives across the school’s mission remain intact, creating time for a more permanent forum practice to be forged.

Resources:  SPRC

Prior review

JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package that protects journalistically responsible student expression.





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Responsibility in scholastic media starts with
ethics, accuracy, complete story QT23

Posted by on Oct 23, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Administrators may want student media that depicts the school in a positive light, that promotes good news and overlooks the negative.

Is this responsible journalism?

Advisers may want student media that reflects students’ technical proficiency such as mechanics, grammar and style. Little else matters.

Is this responsible journalism?

Students may want to preserve tradition, give students the content they want, focusing on predictable content sure to avoid administrative displeasure.

Is this responsible journalism?

The goal of responsible, ethical journalism is not met by simply deciding stories cannot be published or media practices that produce no educational value. Journalistic responsibility is a layered, textured process.

Resolution of content issues will not come from a series of “don’ts” framed for the students.

Resolution will come through thorough, accurate and credible journalism shaped by a strong mission statement, empowering policies and a staff manual rooted in ethical guidelines that enable student growth, critical thinking and decision-making.

Resolution is not created  by publishing fake news forged by censorship and fear of censorship.

Strong journalism is rooted in ethics, empowered by trust and enabled by policies and guidelines that demand responsibility.

Journalistic responsibility.


Quick Tips: Journalistic responsibility

Question: What we speak of responsible journalism, what do we mean?

Key points/action: Responsible journalism is ethical journalism. Administrators demand responsibility but the trouble is groups define it differently.

Responsible and ethical journalism is accurate, complete and cohesive. It’s credible and has integrity.

These elements combined create a path to ethical journalism. The path is much more difficult, if not impossible, censorship, prior review or self-censorship because students are intimidated from carrying out responsible journalism, exist

Journalism that is censored, incomplete and lacks context is not responsible. It’s fake news.

Stance: Journalistic responsibility begins with empowering student media to practice the little things:

  • Access to accurate, complete and truthful information
  • Ability to present information in context
  • Access to credible and trustworthy sources through interviewing, observation and research
  • Leadership through their content, decisions and actions
  • Opportunities to decide all content for student media, to apply the principles, skills and practices they are taught and learn from their successes

As student journalists take these steps, they will maintain the idea of free expression as democracy’s cornerstone,


Common threads of responsible journalism connect school officials, student journalists and news-media professionals. Guidelines expressed here reflect the belief student journalists and school officials share a commitment to the schools’ educational mission and practices, and that commitment focuses on building stronger and engaged citizens.

Responsible student journalists accept ethical guidelines and practices to best serve their communities. Responsible administrators embrace and enhance journalistic practices that carry out the mission of scholastic media and of the school in fortifying information their communities need to make informed decisions and action in a working democracy.

To that end, we build goals for journalistic responsibility by:

  • Establishing policies and practices that enable thorough, accurate, complete and cohesive reporting of student-decided content.
  • Applying critical thinking and decision-making skills and practices to assist students as they become productive citizens in a democracy.
  • Empowering advisers’ development and use of substantive journalism curricula and application experiences.
  • Maintaining open lines of communication between students, faculty and staff, administrators and communities designed to build trust create a maximum environment for truthful and complete sharing of information.
  • Reporting accurately, thoroughly, credibly and cohesively so process and product model integrity.
  • Operating student media that publish information in verbal and visual context that enhances comprehension for the greater good of all communities.

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package  that protects journalistically responsible student expression.


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As ETHS administrators tighten the grip,
they may want to heed pastoral advice

Posted by on Oct 20, 2017 in Blog, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 1 comment

by Stan Zoller, MJE
I had the opportunity to attend an event that was simply called “We the People:  Making Our Voices Heard.”

It featured an “advocacy resource fair” followed by presentations addressing the “State of Our Democracy.”

The first speaker hit the nail on the head about the event’s importance.

“We are doing what we should be doing.  Citizens of the World need to take responsibility of being good citizenry; we need to consider the state of our democracy because an informed citizenry makes good decisions.”


And who made this statement?

A local politician?  Nope.

An educator or school board member?  Nope.

A community activist with a special agenda? Nope.

An impassioned journalist? Nope.

It was Norval Brown. Wait, let me clarify that – Pastor Norval Brown.

Brown is Pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Deerfield, Illinois, which hosted the event because it hosts community events on a regular basis.

Attendees were area residents and representatives of various civic organizations such as Common Cause and local chapters of the League of Women Voters.

Unfortunately, there were no school districts or school boards represented.

And this is where I erred. I should have extended an invitation to the Evanston Township High School (ETHS) Board of Education.

It might have learned a thing or two about civic engagement and why it is important our voices be heard – including student voices.

As was reported here Oct. 12, administrators at ETHS saw fit to confiscate and prohibit distribution of the Sept. 22 issue of The Evanstonian, the school newspaper because it had articles on student use of marijuana. Students were also ordered to remove the paper from the Evanstonian website.

To recap, several members of the Evanstonian staff along with myself and a representative from a local community activist organization made statements at a school building. If there was a ray of hope, as noted in my Oct. 12 posting, it was that one School Board member, Jonathan Baum, called for the matter to be discussed in open session at the next School Board meeting, Monday, Oct. 23.

The district released the following statement Thursday, Oct. 12:

Statement Regarding September 22, 2017 Evanstonian Articles

On September 22, 2017, the Evanston Township High School (ETHS) student newspaper published a series of articles under the heading The Pot Thickens… The two-page spread features six articles, including 6 Questions for a Drug Dealer and School Stress Causes Marijuana Usage. Both articles promote illegal conduct that also violates school policy. For example, the Drug Dealer article states that a reason to sell marijuana is to make money, as much as one hundred-sixty dollars per ounce. The School Stress article states that using marijuana makes a student funnier and more confident. The article goes on to state that a “feeling of euphoria and bliss” is caused by a chemical in marijuana.

 Dr. Marcus Campbell, Principal of ETHS, collaborated with the ETHS administrative team and legal counsel in reviewing the published articles. Dr. Campbell determined that the articles glorify both drug use and drug dealing, messages that are detrimental to ETHS students.

The U.S. Constitution and the Illinois Speech Right of Student Journalists Act both provide student journalists with certain rights to speech that ETHS celebrates. Those rights are limited. When student journalism incites unlawful acts, violation of school policy, or disrupts the school, the administration has the authority to impose limits. The articles on September 22, 2017 did cross these lines and were removed from circulation for that reason.

The statement has more holes in it than a Dunkin’ Donuts. To begin, the U.S. Constitution does not address student press rights because, odds are there was no student media when the Constitution was written. But why sweat details.

Secondly, there is an abysmal lack of clarity regarding Illinois’ Speech Rights of Scholastic Journalists Act. As noted in my Oct. 12 posting, there are four restrictions on scholastic journalists. They address libel, unwarranted invasion of privacy, violation of federal or state law and incitement of students to commit an unlawful act. Period.

A third component that is most irritating is the procedures detailed in the statement are not what students said transpired. Principal Marcus Campbell approved the issue before it was distributed. It was not until the next day when English and Reading Department Chair Samone Jones ordered the confiscation.

If there was a meeting with legal counsel students, parents, faculty, staff and the public were not made aware of it.  For good reason. It did not occur until after Jones ordered the confiscation. Odds are it also did not occur until after Oct. 9 School Board meeting because school officials were not expecting the subject be brought to light at a School Board meeting.

The statement shamefully infers students lied to the School Board and Campbell did not approve the paper.

The statement was issued Oct. 12. The next day student staff members met with Campbell and Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. It appears the ETHS administration is flexing its intimidation muscle as students and the adviser appear reluctant to respond to emails.  Why? Perhaps because they have been warned against sharing information and fear retribution.

My sources indicated that during the meeting Witherspoon said the journalism teacher was responsible for teaching what he called “journalistic shortcomings.”  Additionally, sources tell me Witherspoon made it clear the school could decide not to offer journalism and that the school could “yank the paper next year.”

Witherspoon reportedly supported Jones’ action, saying she has the responsibility to represent the whole school, and there must be “journalistic integrity” and the Evanstonian was not their “personal blog.”

Campbell reportedly told students they “could have worked through this.” What he forgot is they cooperated by showing him the edition before it was scheduled to distributed.  By saying it “could have been worked out” is like installing a smoke detector after the fire department has been called.

Efforts are under way to gain additional information using Illinois FOI laws.

In the meantime, it’s not clear who Witherspoon, Campbell, Jones and the rest of the Board are going to listen to because they seem to have their own ideas.

There is, however, one person they should listen to.

Pastor Brown.

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