High school newspapers endorsing Obama go missing

Student editors believe edition was thrown away

PENNSYLVANIA -- Copies of the Cumberland Valley High School newspaper, the CV Eye Update, went missing Oct. 27 after the staff made an endorsement of Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, said an adviser to the student paper.

The front page included a photo of Obama with the headline, "CV Eye Endorses Obama For President."

"In a blind-ballot vote, thirty staff members determined that Obama has the best platform for America's future," the staff wrote in the paper. "The statistics below show the distribution of opinion among this newspaper staff only. No matter who students support, we encourage everyone of voting age to get out and cast their vote come November 4."

Levi Mumma, writing adviser to the CV Eye Update, said no one saw the papers being thrown out or stolen and have not reported the papers stolen or missing to authorities. He said he had no clue to who may be responsible for the missing papers and did not want to speculate. The staff believes the papers were thrown out, he said.

A student editor for the CV Eye Update told The Patriot-News that some students took stacks of the newspaper and threw them in the trash -- a move one First Amendment advocate said can be prosecuted in court.

"We asked administrators and people who were at lunches if they saw anything -- they hadn't. But, we knew they weren't in students' hands," Mumma said. "The only other thing that could have happened is someone must have thrown them out."

The local newspaper in Harrisburg, Pa., The Patriot-News, reported Nov. 1 that unidentified students threw out stacks of the newspapers because of opposition to the editorial inside the paper. Mumma said there was a consensus among the staff that the papers went missing but there was "fishiness" that the papers were stolen instead.

"We would have liked a person to write a letter and to respond appropriately, and if someone stole it, then we would suggest that next time or in the future, they would respond appropriately via a letter to the editor," Mumma said. "But they didn't and they weren't as responsible as we hoped."

Mike Hiestand, legal advocate for the Student Press Law Center, said if the student editors find out who threw the papers out, they have a legal right to report a theft complaint against the individual. Hiestand said a number of state prosecutors have gone after newspaper thieves under traditional theft law, but there are other lighter measures that could be taken as well.

"If they want to take legal action that is something they can do," Hiestand said. "Another thing they can do, and maybe this is a first step before going public and filing a legal action, is if they know who did it they can go to them and demand a very public apology and restitution so that they can reprint the papers as soon as possible."

William E. Harner, Cumberland Valley School District superintendent, said he saw the issue of the CV Eye Update and was proud of the work the student-editors did but had not heard the newspapers were thrown out or stolen.

"That disturbs me that that took place," Harner said.

He also said the district would look into the matter and possibly take action against the person or persons involved depending on their intent, and no matter who it is, something would be said or done to prevent it from happening again.

"Whoever would do that would be counseled on what freedom of speech is," Harner said. "It's an invaluable teaching point you don't want to lose."

Harner compared the thrown out or stolen papers to political signs being taken from someone's front lawn or off the side of the highway. Either way, Harner said is still proud that the student-journalists were able to spark discussion among the entire school district, including some local citizens who called the school district to find out its position on the Obama endorsement.

"It's not the school district taking a position, it's the school newspaper," he said. "So it became an education lesson for some of our constituents and some of our school community members on free speech."

Hiestand said the student-journalists have a right to do political endorsements and that the problem does not really reside with censorship among administrators or faculty, but more of a straightforward theft case.

"As far as we know, school officials weren't involved in it and so there's not a First Amendment claim here," he said.

"It's just another indication that kids are in need of a little civics education here when their response to somebody actually taking a political stand ... is to swipe the papers and throw them away so nobody can read them."

Hiestand, who has written several articles about newspaper theft, said stealing newspapers has a chilling effect on the First Amendment.

"It's pretty much the most efficient form of censorship I know," he said.

Cumberland Valley High School, CV Eye Update, news, Pennsylvania

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