Ill. school board approves prior review policy for student newspaper

ILLINOIS -- After three months of review, the Harrisburg, Ill. school board approved a prior review policy that gives Harrisburg High School Principal Karen Crank authority to review the student newspaper, the Purple Clarion, 48 hours before publication.

Harrisburg Community Unit #3 Board of Education member Judy Cape said there is not much change from the past policy and that she does not believe this is censorship.

"Hazelwood defines the standard of censorship for high school newspapers," Cape said. "It is my intent and expectation as a board member that the paper will be reviewed within those standards. These students still have First Amendment rights under Hazelwood."

Under Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, high school administrators can censor many school-sponsored student publications if they can show they have a legitimate educational reason for doing so.

In addition to prior review, the new policy requires writers to sign all editorials and opinion articles. Purple Clarion adviser Cathy Wall voiced displeasure with the policy changes at the school board meeting and said that she does not agree with the idea of prior review of content by an administrator.

"Instead of teaching them (the students) to think freely and independently -- to watch their government with a critical eye and speak out when something is amiss -- we are teaching them to accept the role of government censorship because the principal is a government employee," Wall said in an e-mail.

Wall said that although she spoke with Crank about censorship, she is still concerned about the issues related to prior review of the publication.

"And while our principal has told me she has no interest in censorship, we think the new policy creates a scenario where student expression can be censored if someone perceives it as interfering with the school's educational mission," Wall said.

Sally Turner, executive director of the Illinois Journalism Education Association, addressed the school board at the meeting last month and urged the school board to reconsider the policy changes.

"What you are suggesting at this time is inappropriate, and changing the structure of the class would set a dangerous precedent for other teachers in other subjects," Turner said at the meeting. She compared the situation with the journalism class and journalism students to that of an art class.

"You don't question an award-winning art teacher or ask to review every piece of art that leaves the classroom," she said.

Cape said that the school board was advised by legal counsel that the school district is legally responsible for the content of the newspaper, and the decision to impose prior review was meant to "assure that someone in a position of authority within the district looks at the paper within the parameters of Hazelwood."

Talks of revamping the policy began last December when the school board issued a directive asking writers to use courtesy titles in opinion and editorial content after the Purple Clarion published an opinion article criticizing Crank.

Wall said during the school board meeting that as the adviser, she is capable of reviewing the paper for legal issues. She believes there are "too many inconsistencies in the logic used to justify this policy," but plans to restructure next school year's production cycle to accommodate the 48-hour prior review requirement.

For More Information:

  • Ill. school board imposes directive for student newspaper to use courtesy titles in stories News Flash, 1/28/2008

  • Ill., Harrisburg, Harrisburg High School, Hazelwood, news, Purple Clarion