Archive for Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Debate over censorship causes students to speak out

October 31, 2001

An issue of whether school administrators are improperly censoring the student newspaper at Basehor-Linwood High School has caused some current and former students to voice their concerns.

Students say the school administration has censored content of the student newspaper, The Express, in violation of the state and U.S. constitutions.

The administration claims it was not breaking the law when making publishing decisions about the newspaper, but has kept the students from publishing inaccurate or potentially slanderous stories that would cause undue harm.

"It is sad that such a successful program is threatened by closed minds that are needlessly worried about their image," said Tanner Stransky, a former Express editor. "It is time to put a stop to administration in the Basehor-Linwood school district breaking laws and oppressing talented students."

BLHS Principal Bill Hatfield refuted the accusations against the administration.

"I do not feel like the actions we have taken are in violation of state law," Hatfield said.

"In my view, if it singles out a group or student for embarrassment, I would have an issue with that."

The accusation of censorship seems to stem from two incidents in which journalism students and BLHS administrators were at odds over the content in the newspaper.

One incident resulted in an issue of the paper never being seen by the BLHS student body.

In April, The Express came out with a parody issue of the paper as part of April Fool's Day. And while the administration approved the parody issue when students asked permission, Hatfield said the content of the issue was not in good taste and could have caused a defamation suit against the school district.

"If when I review a story, there is something embarrassing or harmful, I would want to consider that," Hatfield said.

Some of the disputed content reportedly included a picture of a faculty member dressed in a Nazi uniform and a story about the rivalry between cheerleaders and dance squad members.

"Frankly, I was appalled with some of the things that were in that and I felt like it could be injurious to our staff," Hatfield said."Not every person that picks up that paper may think it is a parody."

A second incident occurred when the Express ran a story questioning school district spending.

After the story was published, school district administrators had meetings with the writers to discuss several inaccuracies that were in the story.

"The issue wasn't the criticism of the district, it was the inaccuracies," Hatfield said.BLHS journalism sponsor Boyd Bauman said The Express is currently working on a retraction of the story.

Bauman, a first year teacher at BLHS, said he has not seen any cases of administration censorship.

"No, I am familiar with the Hazelwood decision and I don't think there has been any violations."

The Hazelwood case involved a St. Louis County, Mo., high school principal who deleted two pages of a student newspaper because it contained a story about teen-age pregnancy and another story about how students and parents relate to each other.

The pregnancy story, the principal thought, would bring harm to the teen-age mothers in the story, although their names were withheld. In the other story, the principal thought the parents should have had a chance to respond, just not the students.

The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld that students do not have the same First Amendment rights as adults in certain situations.

However, student newspapers are a public forum, the court concluded, and school officials are precluded from censoring content except when "necessary to avoid material and substantial interference with school work, discipline or the rights of others."

A second student, BLHS senior Briana Barron, who is the editor of the BLHS yearbook, is also questioning school district practices in funding the journalism department, which has been a problem in recent years.

Hatfield said the program has gone over their allotted budget several times, but regardless of that situation, the district has continually funded the program.

Funds for the program have also increased since 1999, he said.

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