Freedom of expression finds a new ally
Parents pressure district to adopt open forum status for student paper
INDIANA — A Jefferson High School administrative policy of inspecting the student newspaper before publication has many parents in Lafayette upset and concerned about prior review.
Since principal Lynn Lupold and other administrators began reviewing The Booster prior to publication last November, parents have been voicing their discontent with the policy at the monthly Lafayette School Corporation board meetings.
During last February’s meeting, more than 50 parents and students used the public forum portion of the meeting to try to convince the board to change The Booster from a closed forum to an open forum.
An open forum publication is one in which students have the authority to make content decisions, while a closed forum publication can be censored by administrators for legitimate educational purposes.
“I don’t accept this and the community doesn’t accept this,” said Art Pelton, a parent of one of the students as reported by the Associated Press. “The Booster is a treasure of the community. I call for the school board to vote for an open/closed forum of the Booster and not allow administrators to make arbitrary statements for the paper.”
Although the parents have been showing their disapproval of the closed forum policy at the school board meetings, superintendent Ed Eiler said the board has no intention of changing the policy.
“Our stance is and has always been that the paper is a closed forum,” Eiler said. “The paper is part of curriculum. It’s not just an extracurricular activity separate from school. As part of the curriculum of the school, you have control over the content of the curriculum.”
The theory behind having the closed forum stance with the paper deals with making sure the publication meets the highest journalistic standards, he said.
“We want to make sure our students have the greatest degree of freedom while at the same time, the school is protected from any harm a malicious article could create,” he said.
Jerry Smelser, a parent of a reporter on the paper, said he got involved with trying to convince the board to make the paper an open forum publication after something his daughter wrote for the paper about religion was censored.
“Just because she wrote about the Bible doesn’t mean she should be censored,” said Smelser, a township trustee. “It’s not wrong to write about things you believe in.”
Adviser of The Booster, Chuck Herbert, said Smelser’s model of censorship is a prime example of recent disagreements the administration has with the paper.
“The principal doesn’t like the student newspaper,” Herbert said. “Anything she can do to control and restrict, she’ll do.”
Herbert said Lupold and other administrators have been coming up with a number of strange excuses to cut copy — including stating there was too much copy to read and review.
“The kids are starting to self-censor now,” he said. “There are many things students want to address, but now they are afraid of being censored. There is a great deal of caution.”
Since the prior review issue arose, Dennis Cripe, of the Indiana High School Press Association, has been working with the paper, parents and administrators on resolving disputes over the paper’s role in the high school. He said politics play a large role in the issue.
The administration is worried the paper may not be open to all students because of religious affiliation, Cripe said. He noted Herbert is the editor of a conservative Catholic magazine in Lafayette and that the administration is concerned over the separation of church and state in the school.
“Right now there is some concern over whether the paper’s program allows everyone to participate,” he said. “The administration wants to make sure the program is open to all students, not just those who have a certain religious affiliation.”
Regardless of how politics play into the situation, Smelser said he and other parents continue to voice their opinions about the matter before the board at their regular meetings.
“We’re going to keep at it until they change the paper to an open forum,” he said. “Students should have the right to freely express their ideas whether they’re conservative or liberal.”
Fall 1998, reports