Students secure return of newspaper

Principal lifts suspension of publication following protest, but editors fear struggle is just beginning

OHIO -- It all happened rather quickly. One day the student newspaper was distributed, the next day it was suspended, and six eventful days later, it was returned to the students.

While some might laud the return of the Walnut Hills High School student paper as a victory for the student press, staff members are not so ready to claim success.

Philip Ewing, co-editor of The Chatterbox, called it a "limited victory." Although the principal gave the newspaper back to the students, he also implemented a new set of rules that would give him "a way to censor us," Ewing said.

The struggle started in March when Walnut Hills principal Marvin O. Koenig suspended the student newspaper because of a column and a cartoon featured on the humor page in the March 15 issue that poked fun at the assistant principal.

The column, written by humor page editor Sean Krebs, criticized school administrators for holding Saturday school, a form of detention for skipping class that requires students to report to school on Saturdays. The cartoon showed assistant principal Gerald Houghton, depicted as the "Two-Face" character from Batman, handing out a detention slip.

The day after distributing the newspaper, Koenig sent a memo to the newspaper staff saying he was suspending all publication of The Chatterbox "until a future time when my confidence may be restored in the judgment of the Chatterbox's student leadership."

Following the suspension, staff members met with Koenig, who explained his reasons for suspending the newspaper. Days later, what started off as an issue between the principal and the staff became an issue for the entire student body.

A week after the March 15 issue was distributed, an estimated 125 students at Walnut Hills staged a walkout. According to co-editor Diana Claybon, students gathered outside the school holding signs demanding free-speech rights and the return of The Chatterbox. One student climbed a tree and refused to come down until the suspension of the newspaper was lifted, Claybon said.

Claybon, who insists the staff had nothing to do with the walkout, said she was shocked when she saw it.

"We just freaked out," Claybon said. "It was nothing we knew about, and it was nothing we organized. But we appreciated the support."

Following the walkout, Koenig agreed to meet with the staff, at which time he returned the newspaper to the students.

The celebration was short-lived.

In a March 26 memo, Koenig informed the students that he will require the newspaper adviser to read and approve the newspaper's content before it is published.

"I don't believe my role is to censor a school publication," Koenig said. "I think that the role of the staff and the adviser is to use good judgment on what they are putting into a school newspaper."

Ewing said Koenig is being hypocritical.

"It is really underhanded," Ewing said. "He and his lackeys at the school pay a lot of lip service to the First Amendment, to our constitutional rights and to freedom of speech, but when it came down to the wire, they've gone completely in the opposite direction."

Ewing added that staff members are not sure of their next step but said they will definitely continue the fight.

"I firmly and unequivocally believe in freedom of speech," Ewing said. "I believe it applies to everyone in our society and that no one should be put in the position of being allowed to curtail it. When you take it away, you take away a lot more, and you realize that all the high-minded ideals that we live under and our teachers espouse can just become platitudes."

reports, Spring 2001