School board remorseful after censorsing biting student editorial

ILLINOIS -- A school board apologized Monday for halting distribution of the student newspaper at Huntley High School and gave students the OK to pass out the paper, which contained an editorial critical of a school board member.

The delay resulted from a school board member who caught wind last Wednesday that an unflattering editorial about him would run in Friday's edition of the Voice.

In hindsight, putting a hold on distribution because of one school board member's complaints was a bad idea, District 158 Interim-Superintendent Robert Hammon said.

This issue of the Voice will be old news by the time students read the paper when they return from spring break next week. A local newspaper, the Northwest Herald, ran the editorial on Friday along with a story about the censorship.

The student editorial questioned why Larry Snow, a board member in District 158, was speaking out against a tax referendum in neighboring District 300.

The editorial states, ''We need your focus, Mr. Snow, to be on District 158 in putting programs back together and solving problems here.''

The ordeal began last Wednesday when Snow called him and asked him to block the editorial from printing, Hammon said.

He said he let the paper print the editorial, but he, along with the principal, decided not to let the students distribute the paper on Friday. So 1,500 copies of the Voice spent the weekend at the house of student editor Jake Sanches.

''It's something that never should have happened,'' Sanches told a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, which also covered the story.

Hammon said Snow insisted on having a board meeting to discuss whether the editorial should be allowed to appear in the paper.

Snow told the Northwest Herald, ''It appears to me as if the school newspaper does not have the right of political free speech. [Students] have a right to write a letter to the editor...or to stand on the street corner with signs. Do they have the legal right to do it paid by taxpayers?''

At the Monday morning meeting the board voted to allow the distribution of the paper and apologized to the student journalists.

But Snow tells a different story.

He said he never protested the content of the editorial.

''The current editorial met all the standards. There was never a reason for it to be held. Now they bring up this free speech and frame me as a censor,'' Snow said.

Snow said that after several parents phoned him last week about the editorial, he was concerned that the content of the editorial might be false.

But after he saw the editorial when it ran in the Northwest Herald, he said ''there was really nothing wrong with the editorial,'' and the criticism was tame compared to flack he has received in the past.

Snow said he came to Monday's meeting and announced that not only did he support distributing the paper, but also he made a motion for the student newspaper to have

''complete free speech.'' Under current district guidelines, ''school authorities may edit or delete material that is inconsistent with the school mission,'' Snow said.

''He tried to take all the questions and control the situation,'' Hammon said of Snow's behavior at the meeting. ''He tried to expand it into free speech and freedom of the press.''

No board members seconded that motion, Snow said.

Both Snow and Hammon said a student newspaper should ''absolutely'' have the freedom to criticize public officials.

Huntley High School, Illinois, news, Voice