Student staff members resign from high school paper following censorship controversies

ILLINOIS -- After months of controversy with school administrators, 11 staff members--including the top editors--of Stevenson High School's Statesman resigned from their positions as of Wednesday evening. The students withdrew from their journalism class, which produces the publication.

The resignations follow months of conflict between the staff and school administrators over the newspaper's content.

Statesman staff members spoke out against recurring censorship issues at the school's Board of Education meeting in December 2009. The meeting addressed the removal of an article in the Dec. 18 issue of the paper, which discussed the use of prescription drugs among students. In November, the staff was required to produce a paper with only administration-approved content after the administration objected to the use of anonymous sources in a story.

Former managing editor, senior Evan Ribot, has worked for the Statesman since his freshman year. Ribot told the SPLC in December that talking did not seem to be getting the staff anywhere.

"They just change their statements so often and change what they're doing so often that a lot of times it's impossible to make progress," he said.

District spokesman Jim Conrey said the administration had planned to work with the students to implement changes to the class. "They chose to withdraw before giving it a chance to work out," he said.

According to Gabriel Fuentes, an attorney with Jenner & Block LLP, who is working with the students as a Student Press Law Center volunteer attorney, there has been an ongoing disagreement over the limits of the district's authority under the standards established by the Supreme Court in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.

"The students, faced with the choice of continuing to labor under that disagreement, have decided honorably to resign," he said. "[It] was a missed opportunity for the school district to demonstrate that it really was prepared to comply with First Amendment law and the Hazelwood case."

Former Statesman Editor-in-Chief Pamela Selman told the Chicago Tribune she would "rather practice no journalism than journalism that doesn't follow with my ethics and what I believe in."

In regards to the current status of the Statesman, Conrey said that although the class has been downsized, he does not foresee any problems with publishing.

"We plan to carry on the best we can," he said. The next issue had been set for a Jan. 29 publication.

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