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SPJ speaks out against censorship of student newspaper in Wentzville, Mo.
For immediate release
Kevin Smith, SPJ President, 304-367-4864,
Neil Ralston, SPJ Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs, 270-745-5841,
INDIANAPOLIS – On March 23, the Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter to administrators in Wentzville R-IV School District that addressed the Timberland High School principal’s decision to institute prior review on the student newspaper. Leaders of SPJ disagreed with the censorship and voiced their disappointment to Principal Winston Rogers, Wentzville School District Superintendent Terry Adams and the members of the Wentzville School District Board of Education. The letter follows.
Mr. Winston Rogers
559 E Hwy N
Wentzville, MO 63385
Dear Principal Winston Rogers, Superintendent Terry Adams and members of the Wentzville School District Board of Education:
Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists are disappointed to learn about the decision to institute prior review on The Wolf’s Howl, the student newspaper at Timberland High School.
We understand that high school administrators have a responsibility to help provide a safe and nurturing environment for their students, and we know their job is difficult. But the recent actions taken against The Wolf’s Howl – including the requirement that an issue of the newspaper be pulled from distribution because it included articles about and photos of tattoos – do more to harm the students than to help them.
A student newspaper needs to be a place where students can read about and discuss issues that are important to them even if those issues sometimes make people uncomfortable. Of course, administrators should prevent students from publishing any content typically considered to be unprotected speech, such as libel or obscenity. And administrators have a right to control expression that clearly would violate privacy or substantially disrupt the school. But restricting student expression over matters of personal taste protects no one, and it runs the risk of chilling speech about important issues.
Administrators at some schools prefer that their student “newspapers” publish nothing controversial, that the student journalists report only on positive events. But those publications are not really newspapers, and they teach students nothing about journalism or the role that journalism plays in our society.
So far, the restrictions placed on The Wolf’s Howl have disrupted the school, cost the district a fine newspaper adviser and focused unwanted national attention on the district. Continuing these restrictions will only cause further damage to a once well-respected student publication, and it will send the message to students that governmental control of the news media is valued over a free press. We urge that Principal Rogers abandon efforts to conduct prior review over the student newspaper, and we ask that he work with the student staff to provide a responsible, vibrant and important newspaper that students want to read.
The Society of Professional Journalists is a broad-based, national journalism organization founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi. SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.
Vice President, Campus Chapter Affairs
Cc: Dr. Terry Adams
Mr. Dale Schaper
Ms. Sherry Cox
Mr. David Hurst
Mr. Joe McDonald
Mr. Michael Cecil
Mr. David Ness
Ms. Terry Ratcliff
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.