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Text of JEA letter to Stevenson admins, links to overall coverage

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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:

Dr. Twadell,

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
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-stevenson-school-paper-20-nov20,0,1175320.story

• Students say district forced them to publish
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/education/chi-high-school-newspaper-25-nov

• Stevenson High orders students to publish
http://www.dailyherald.com/story/comments/?id=339605#storycomments

• Presses roll at Stevenson, without offending stories
http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/11/presses-roll-at-stevenson-high—-without-offending-stories.html

• Student newspaper is a lot leaner, less controversial
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-stevenson-censored-26nov26,0,5752444.story?obref=obnetwork

• Controversial Stevenson student newspaper released
http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=339713

• Muzzling students
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/chi-1126edit2nov26,0,6053750.story

• Stevenson High to students: publish or perish
http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/dennis-byrne-barbershop/2009/11/stevenson-high-to-j-students-publish-or-perish.html

• SPJ blog by David Cuillier
http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/foi/

• Il high school students face censorship
http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/campus/

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