Censorship of a school newspaper by a School Board or administration is not new, nor is it particularly cataclysmic. How it is handled is the critical matter – as a platform for an open discussion of rights and responsibilities or as a bully pulpit to re-enforce authority.
This is the dilemma faced by the Evanston Township High School/District 202 administration.
Without notice, an administrator confiscated as many copies as possible of the Sept. 22 issue of the student-run newspaper, The Evanstonian. The center spread dealt with marijuana: its use – both medicinal and illegal – by ETHS students, a report on a bill proposed in the Illinois General Assembly sponsored by a legislator who represents a part of Evanston, an interview with a person self-identified as a seller of marijuana, and a photo of a person who appears to be exhaling smoke.
Members of The Evanstonian’s editorial staff have indicated that they believed they had permission from the administration to run the stories, and the administration’s response to whether permission had be given earlier, in our view, appears to have been waffling. The reason given for the confiscation was that the some of the stories appeared to advocate illegal drug use and violated school policy.
The RoundTable obtained a copy of the Sept. 22 edition. What we saw was a high-school publication with thoughtfully considered stories covering several issues about marijuana.
Chances are that, had the administration not intervened, the Sept. 22 issue would have ended up like many newspapers – in the backpack, on the kitchen table, in the recycling bin. Now everyone is going to want to get their hands on a copy and weigh in on the censorship rather than the content of the paper.
We stand by the students in their push-back of the administration. We understand that the First Amendment is not an absolute guarantee of unfettered speech, and we recognize that high school newspapers are subject to more limitations than are other newspapers.
The student editors have said they would like to work on the spread and possibly have the articles republished, perhaps with some caveats about the use of illegal drugs.
This is a magnanimous invitation on their part, and we hope the administration will accept it. It is always the step after the error that counts. ETHS administrators have the opportunity to turn this situation into a robust discussion of the rights and responsibilities of student writers and editors and the parameters of administration interference.
We look forward to the results and to the next issue of The Evanstonian.