Kids were writing stories about teen pregnancy, shoplifting and honor students who drink and do drugs. So did the school call an intervention? No, they shut down the student newspaper.
The Stevenson High School paper has long been regarded as one of the most hard hitting in terms of high school journalism. Earlier this year, an issue on “hooking up” disappeared. All three thousand four hundred copies.
The school then called for the communication arts program director to review all articles before they were printed, setting off a barrage of complaints against the district for violating kids’ right to free speech.
Now there will be no speech at all.
According to the Chicago Tribune, members of the paper’s staff were told by administrators that they would have to reveal their sources in a piece on students in the National Honor Society and freshmen mentors program who admitted to drinking and smoking. The district wanted the names in order to punish the kids. The reporters refused, opting to run a blank front page instead, explaining to readers why the story wasn’t there.
Rather than applaud the students’ journalistic integrity, the district “spiked” an issue, citing problems with the blank page plus a story on a set of teens in the district who are expecting a child which they deemed “unbalanced” and another story on kids who shoplift.
Frank LoMante, executive director of the Virginia-based Student Press Law Center, told the Tribune he’s read the stories – and they have positive messages for kids such as “don’t shoplift” and “get counseling if you’re pregnant.”
The point of any newspaper is to reflect the stories of its coverage area. For a school, that means addressing the stories of teenage life. Santizing a school paper does not make the problems disappear. If anything, it amplifies why kids are experimenting with danger – because no one is listening to them.
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