by Randy Swikle
Hazelwood stories: Here is a nutshell of Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois., and how Hazelwood diminished Barb Thill’s J-program:
In Illinois, all but four staff members of one of the nation’s most honored student newspapers quit the publication and dropped their journalism class after school officials publicly rebuked student reporters and their adviser, repeatedly censored accurate articles, revoked the “designated forum” status of the paper, adopted a policy of prior review and edited the paper themselves.
The adviser, a nationally recognized teacher, lost her position. (In a year’s time, two replacement advisers also lost their “newspaper adviser” assignments.)
In an editorial, the Chicago Tribune criticized school authorities and praised student journalists for the high quality of their censored work.
In the ongoing saga that is the battle over Stevenson High (IL) journalism program, The Daily Herald recently editorially called for an intervention session. An IEP of sorts to plan protocols to heal the damaged relationship between school and students.
The online Merriam-Webster definition of a protocol: a code prescribing strict adherence to correct etiquette and precedence or a set of conventions governing the treatment of data in an online communications system. I like process instead, but the definition is not the key.
Its substance is.
Such a protocol is, and has been, the goal of Illinois Journalism Education Association (JEA) state director Randy Swikle, the McCormick Freedom Project and the Illinois Press Foundation. In fact, a conference to attempt such protocols is planned for February.
Assuming the conference can succeed at what many, many others have tried (and we do want it to succeed for all journalism programs facing censorship) what would you see as the core items in a protocol? If you and your students face censorship or prior review, what is the key concept or principle or action you think ought to be at the heart of a workable protocol? If you are review free, what is the core of that freedom others need to know about?
For me, such a protocol would have to answer key questions:
• How do we commonly define responsibility, as in free and responsible journalism?
• Whether we can reach an understanding on prior review and why it has no valid educational purpose
• Can we convince all involved that journalistic values match and precisely serve the best of a system’s educational mission statements?
• The words civility or respect are often bandied about. Can all sides really respect each other’s positions?
We would love to hear from you and how you envision a protocol that enables all parties to work out a sound educational solution.
According to Lincolnshire, Il, Board of Education president Bruce Lubin at a board of education meeting Dec. 17, the Statesman, a focal point of censorship issues over the last two years, is not a public forum but rather “an educational and curriculum endeavor.”
The whole statement can be found at Stevenson High’s Web site.
The board clams “informal” review has taken place for years in the statement. The statement also cited Hazelwood as rationale for the board to “impose restrictions on a newspaper of this type, provided that their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”
Stevenson officials today censored another story, this one on student use of prescription drugs and using named sources. The school cited its responsibility not to publish private student information even though the student had given reporters permission to use the name.
Still, the board’s statement sees only positives over the controversy.
“The current questions surrounding the Statesman have had at least one positive result,” the board statement continued. “While Stevenson has had an informal practice of pre-publication prior review for the Statesman for years, recent events have enabled the administration, faculty, and student journalists to have conversations that have provided more focus and are leading to the development of more specific procedures and practices for providing feedback and suggestions to our journalism students. Within the next month, our administration, journalism teachers, and students will be working collaboratively to draft clear procedures and guidelines to improve communication and provide our students with clear expectations for their work in the journalism program.”
Student editors have repeatedly said said they are being forced away from responsible journalism and learning.
According to the Chicago BreakingNewsCenter, editor Pam Selman said at last night’s meeting, “The worst part about it all is that (the censorship) is not just unlawful — it’s bad teaching and bad journalism. The fact that we are students does not deprive us of our rights as journalists working on a limited public forum to be free from unreasonable restraint.”
The board now argues the Statesman is not a public forum.
At any rate, the board’s statement continues the puzzle that is Stevenson High. The board reiterates its belief it is an exemplary learning community. Journalism students, meanwhile, only learn more about restraint and review even though their course description presents the following:
Journalism: Newspaper Production (Accelerated )
ENG951-Semester 1, ENG952-Semester 2
Open to 10-11-12 Full Year
Prerequisite: Journalistic Writing
Students do all the work necessary to produce the school newspaper, the Statesman. Staff positions include managing editors, copy editor, design editor, advertising manager, photo manager, page editors (news, opinions, sports, in-depth and feature), reporter and photographer. Staff members gather news, research and write copy, and help complete pages. Students who hope to be photographers are encouraged to take a photography course through the Art Department. Because this is a student publication, all responsibilities, from the planning of the content to the design of an issue to the processing of photos and the completion of pages, are handled by students. Afterschool work is necessary to the completion of each issue. This course may be taken more than once for credit. While students are welcome to enroll if they meet the prerequisite, they must complete the interview and application process in the spring to be considered for admission.
Collaboration, so far, seems very one-sided and directive.
And, as seen in this college editor’s column, Stevenson is not the only school changing the playing field. Additionally, censorship continues at Timberland High in Wentzville, Missouri.
For additional stories, see the Chicago BreakingNewsCenter story. Read the Daily Herald story.
In response the ongoing prior review situation and restraint at Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, Illinois, JEA President Jack Kennedy recently sent school officials the following letter. Links to Chicago area coverage of the situation follow the letter:
I am a long-time admirer of Stevenson High School, having read numerous scholarly articles by faculty members on Professional Learning Communities and Advanced Placement courses, having followed “The Statesman” for over 20 years, and even having visited your campus just three years ago. I have always imagined Stevenson as a bastion of academic excellence, an example of the comprehensive American public high school at its very best.
Events involving “The Statesman” over the past year have certainly rattled that perception. I have no standing to get into particulars of how events have unfolded, but to have a second instance of the school administration and board leadership coming down on the side of squelching discussion and debate in a newspaper that has a long history of being an open forum for student expression is deeply troubling.
Garnering national attention is certainly not something new for Stevenson, but that this national attention is now so negative must also trouble you. I represent the national organization that supports scholastic journalism educators, and their students by extension, and I hope you will believe me when I say that your school is rapidly becoming the symbol of censorship in American schools. Instead of discussions about the progressive curriculum and fine instruction at the school, journalism educators from across the country are now discussing extraordinary pressure being applied to faculty advisers and administrative attempts to act as “super editors.” This micromanaging has no end. If someone outside the classroom has the power to approve or deny the mere coverage of certain issues, is there any doubt that we eventually find assistant principals correcting spelling, asking for more sources, and quibbling over how a photograph is presented?
Imagine applying the same sort of micromanaging to a football coach, with each play call being approved by some assistant athletic director sitting in the press box. That would be intolerable. Imagine threatening to simply cancel the next football game due to a poor performance by the team last week. In fact, imagine demanding absolute perfection from any sports team or course in the school. That sort of school climate would be equally intolerable.
I hope we can agree that our job, from board members to administration to classroom instructors, is to help our students improve each day, which presupposes that they are not perfect now. Will mistakes be made as we all work to produce valuable citizens? Of course. We will regret them. We will make adjustments. But we will not turn our backs on our young people, even when they disappoint.
The Journalism Education Association has consistently supported student free expression rights over its 85 years, but the association also advocates an adviser code of ethics, as well as distributing positions on photo manipulation, use of copyrighted materials, and Internet expression to our membership. In other words, the association advocates for responsible journalism in a broad array of areas. JEA stands ready to provide support and expertise to anyone involved in disputes over student expression. I sincerely hope you will not hesitate to contact John Bowen, JEA’s student press rights commission chair, Linda Puntney, our executive director, or me if we can be of any assistance.
I would like to think that, ultimately, we agree on the importance of student expression as part of the high school experience.
I ask that Stevenson High School return to its former status as a school where students come first, and where free, open, and responsible discussion of even the most sensitive issues is encouraged.
Coverage of the situation:
• Stevenson High officials halt publication of Statesman
• Students say district forced them to publish
• Stevenson High orders students to publish
• Presses roll at Stevenson, without offending stories
• Student newspaper is a lot leaner, less controversial
• Controversial Stevenson student newspaper released
• Muzzling students
• Stevenson High to students: publish or perish
• SPJ blog by David Cuillier
• Il high school students face censorship
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.