At Faribault High School in Faribault, MN, students have refused to allow their superintendent to review a particular article before going to print. The Student Press Law Center reported that the students, citing their 1st Amendment rights, told the Superintendent:
“What you believe [is] inappropriate concerning the Prieve story is not a legal standard for prior review or from stopping an article from publication in a student newspaper and violates our rights as journalists….Therefore we will not submit to prior review. You will have to shut us down if you wish to continue down this path.”
And shut them down he did. The stated rationale had to do with protecting the children of the teacher in question, as well as protecting the school from legal action stemming from the story being published. Adam Goldstein of the SPLC has responded to these concerns. The SPLC has also posted a letter from the student’s faculty advisor.
But beyond the specifics of this case, larger questions arise about the authority of school administrations to vet student publications. As with many student censorship incidents, this seems to be as much about reaffirming school board authority and student insubordination as it is about whatever content is in question. Even the Superintendent admits: “The issue is now not so much what is in the article but whether or not I have the right to prior review.”
An Op-Ed in the local Post-Bulletin has asserted that he does indeed have the right to prior review:
We believe he not only had the right to do so, but the responsibility to do so as well. A superintendent can and should protect the school district from legal action that could result from inaccuracies in a student publication.
However, we should be wary of such assertions of school authority. And while the superintendent appears to be expressing sincere concerns, to use this instance as an excuse to instate a policy of prior review is highly problematic. It cannot be stressed enough that, “Students do not shed their constitutional rights… at the schoolhouse gate.”
Though the article was censored in the school paper, two student journalists collaborated with Faribault Daily News to break the story.