The words prior review and censorship never seem to sit well with journalists, especially student journalists. Ever since the Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier Supreme court decision in 1988, there have been many controversies surrounding censorship of scholastic publications. I can’t stand hearing about high school principals who try to use their authority to control the contents of a student-run newspaper. However, I thoroughly enjoy hearing that the principal was called out on their unlawful actions and attempts to censor the school newspaper.
On September 10, the principal of Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA) ordered the printing of the school newspaper, Evolution, be stopped after previewing an advance copy of the first issue. When I heard about this, the first thing I thought was: Did the principal really think she could get away with violating the students’ right to the First Amendment? What part of being in high school removes the student’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of press?
Principal Sue Vaughn explained to the Orange County Register that there were two articles she had problems with. One was about the school theme of the year, which she said had too many errors to run. The other was a profile on a Christian-based food vendor, which she felt was irrelevant.
This is outrageous! Vaughn has no right to pick and choose what gets printed, based on her personal feelings about the story. I can’t believe she even had the nerve to report to the OC Register that the reason she refused to print the paper is because she “questioned the relevance” of a story that had been written.
Of course the journalism adviser, Konnie Krislock, would not stand for this. As Krislock explained to the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), neither article contained anything obscene, libeous, or slanderous, and therefore Vaughn had no right to interfere with the printing of the paper. “I know what the law is. I’m 68 years old and I’ve been involved in scholastic journalism since I was 14. This is a cross I will die on- I will never let them censor the newspaper. Ever,” Krislock said to SPLC.
The issue was resolved during a two hour meeting with Vaughn, the assistant Principal Michael Ciecek, Krislock, and the student leaders of the school paper. Surprise, surprise: Vaughn ended up retracting her requirement of prior review of the student paper, and Evolution resumes publication on September 18. I applaud Krislock and Taylor Erickson, the Editor-in-Chief, for fighting for their rights and putting the principal in her place.
When I come across stories like this, with administators trying to control what goes into the school paper, it makes me wonder if the principals are uninformed or just controlling. By this I mean: Does the principal know that what they are doing is wrong, or are they just oblivious to the laws and codes that protect the voice of student journalists?
In this case, the principal was uniformed and oblivious, and even admitted during the meeting with Krislock and others that she did not understand California’s state education code regarding student free expression.
The Student Free Expression Law, section 48907 of California’s education code, explains that student journalists are protected against administrative censorship. Meaning that these overbearing and power hungry administators need to respect the voice of the student journalists, and stop trying to control what the students report on. There is nothing that can be done, nor will there ever be anything that can be done to keep journalists from reporting the truth.
As long as we live in a world where student journalists are protected by freedom of speech and freedom of press, there will be controversy regarding censorship of the student publications.