Previously censored article printed after high school paper, administration reach compromise

ARIZONA -- After a ten-month censorship battle with the Glendale Union High School District, Thunderbird High School's student newspaper, The Challenge, published and distributed a previously censored article.

The article about the district's teacher assessment testing was set to publish on May 8, 2009, and is now in the Feb. 12 of The Challenge, along with the district's response.

Negotiations took place between student editors and administrators to publish the original article and the district's response after a long appeals process.

"We hope that so far the articles that we've published sent a message to other principals and other school districts in the state," former Editor-in-Chief Vaughn Hillyard said.

The article included teachers' responses expressing skepticism about the Performance Based Assessment, which is used to rank the district's teachers and determine whether their students are learning the curriculum. According to the article in The Challenge, the PBA is mandated by the district and is a standardized written test taken by students in multiple subjects.

The article states the district can use the test to compare the performance of teachers based on student scores, as well as use the test to evaluate where teachers are in the curriculum.

Hillyard said at the time that Thunderbird High School Principal Matt Belden called the article inaccurate and the reporting shoddy, which was the justification for pulling the article in May.

Hillyard and former Business Manager Sophia Curran appealed Belden's decision to Superintendent Jennifer Johnson, who agreed with Belden and said the story was biased. Hillyard appealed Johnson's decision to the district's governing board, which ruled on Aug. 19, 2009, that Belden and Johnson were justified in pulling the article.

When the students' appeals failed, they obtained volunteer legal counsel from David Bodney of Steptoe & Johnson, LLP, to explore legal remedies.

Hillyard said the current issue includes the school's take on why Performance Based Assessment testing is beneficial and good for the curriculum, despite refusal at the beginning from administrators to print their response with the original article.

The Challenge's adviser, Sherri Siwek, said she is disappointed that the newspaper still remains under prior review, but remains optimistic.

Both current Editor-in-Chief Talisa Timms and Siwek said they are concerned about students on staff self-censoring.

"We were really hoping now that because of this case that they won't be so quick to actually just censor the paper because they don't like an article," Siwek said.

Hillyard said he learned the importance of the First Amendment as it applies to journalism, as well as a democracy.

"I think it's important for people to not back down in these kinds of situations. It's more than just with a high school newspaper article. Censoring is the destruction of thoughts, opinions, and everything that makes a democracy," said Hillyard, who is now attending Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

Arizona, Glendale Union High School, news, the Challenge