Censoring School Newspapers

June 16, 2008
By Becca Young, Rowley, MA

How would you like it if you worked really hard on a project and someone told you that you couldn’t share it? Or if someone cut the same project up and said you could use only parts of it? One of my friends in elementary school wrote a really creative story, but it had a scene that involved a fight. Her teacher told her that she had to write an entirely new story. Censoring like this and in school newspapers violates the ideas about Freedom of the Press in the First Amendment because it limits students’ opinions and ideas about the future.

Principals and advisors have been censoring student journalist work because, according to John Teves, a district spokesman for California, “…students might be in danger or that [their] campus [es] might be subject to some kind of violence.” However, Teves doesn’t see that students just want to be able to write about their views. At Ocean Lakes High School in 2006, two out of five stories that students wrote weren’t printed in the newspaper because the school administrator censored the articles. Today, schools are allowed to “screen” newspapers because the newspaper represents the whole school and not just the individual writers. The students at Ocean Lakes argued that they were denied their rights given to them by the Hazelwood and Tinker v. Des Moines case. The students also claimed that they just wanted the experience of any other journalist outside of the school, saying that they were “… excited because finally people [could] hear what [they] had to say,” (Cachu, 2005). I think that students need to be heard. Not every school administrator is perfect and always knows the right approach to take. Rachel Lazar, a student from Illinois who wrote an essay on the topic says that “…I think society improves when we DO talk about difficult topics. It helps us understand the world and each other.” In situations like Ocean Lakes High School, people in charge of running the school should realize that the majority of student work wouldn’t put schools in danger because students like writing about problems faced in the world in general. TeenInk, for example, is a magazine that publishes work by teenagers all across the nation. The topics that are written about are ones that school administrators would censor in a public school setting. Students probably prefer to read TeenInk over school newspapers because their views are being expressed.
The Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhimeir case, in St. Louis, Missouri, occurred when students wrote about teen pregnancy and divorce for their school newspaper. The administrators wouldn’t let the students publish the stories because they thought it would offend the other teenagers attending the school. When the Supreme Court got involved, the justices told the school district that since the newspaper wasn’t a public forum, the articles could have been censored. The court argued that, according to the Student Press Law Center, “…if [the] school could present a reasonable justification for its censorship, that censorship would be allowed.” I think that student articles should be treated like student art hanging in galleries. That work isn’t censored, and even if some views for writing aren’t exactly “cookie cutter”, artwork is viewed with respect. Why should the articles be looked at any differently?
People believe that censoring school newspapers protects kids, and I understand where they come from. Adults want students to live in a world where there are no issues. However, that world doesn’t really exist. Students should learn about the real world and what they are going to face.
A lot of school newspaper articles have been censored for unjustified reasons. The students at Bakersfield School in California sued their district in 2005 because they wrote pieces about homosexuality that weren’t published by the school administrators. The administrators claimed that the articles would make the school community unsafe. Students that were gay took the actions personally, and not only did it affect them but the student journalists said that they had “lost their voices.” The courts working on the case ended up wanting the censored articles to be published in the last issue of the Bakersfield School newspaper, so it was done. I think the administrator’s initial decisions, instead of protecting the school, hurt students that were gay and it made those students feel like they weren’t accepted. The students who wrote the articles were being open to change, and the adults weren’t. This shows that our upcoming generation wants others to know what is going on, even if some sacrifices have to be made to do so. However, most of us definitely think that censorship is not the answer.

I am an American. In our society today, being an American means you work to achieve success. When we want something, we strive for it until we get it, and then we move on to the next thing we want. Students want to be noticed for what they have worked for. When they write a piece, they want to be heard and recognized, so they’ll go above and beyond to make their point emphasized. When those points are shut down, and not even published, students don’t want to try as hard as they did before. I know that when I write a story or article I usually want to keep it the way it is because it reflects me and how I think. Freedom of Speech is a concept that was designed to let citizens speak up, and only limit them when it was really necessary. How far do people want to stretch the limits – and how far will these limits stretch? No one knows the answer. We only know that people deserve to be heard in any situation, no matter what their age.

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