After a recent issue of the ETHS Evanstonian was confiscated, student writers and editors argued that District 202 broke the law. In response, the District School Board has consulted the Rights of Student Journalists Act, a State of Illinois law passed in 2016.
The “In Depth” section of the Sept. 22 issue of The Evanstonian contained a spread about marijuana usage. The administration said in a statement that the articles,”6 Questions for a Drug Dealer” and “School Stress Causes Marijuana Usage,” “promote illegal conduct that also violates school policy.”
Evanston Township High School’s legal counsel reviewed the articles with the administration, the statement says, and Dr. Marcus Campbell, Principal of ETHS, “determined that the articles glorify both drug use and drug dealing, messages that are detrimental to ETHS students.”
The student writers and editors of the Sept. 22 Evanstonian stories contend the paper was approved by both the faculty advisor and a member of the administration, but was then confiscated during distribution by a department chair without explanation — although an explanation is required by law.
The District 202 Policy Committee forwarded its recommendations for revisions to Policy 7:315, Restrictions of Publication, to the Board for reading during their April 9 meeting. The policy proposal, “integrates language from the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act. Additional language has been integrated into the policy to increase understanding for those who use the policy (faculty, students, and parents),” said the report to the Board.
Two additions were suggested. The section in the policy titled, “School-Sponsored Media” currently begins, “School-sponsored publications, productions, and web sites are governed by the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act and the School Board policies.”
The revisions add after that, “A student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media, regardless of whether the media is supported financially by the school district or by use of school facilities or produced in conjunction with a class in which the student is enrolled.” Also recommended for addition to that section is, “School officials shall have the burden of showing justification without undue delay prior to a limitation of student expression under the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act. The Superintendent or designee shall develop written procedures to implement this policy.”
Board member Pat Munsell asked whether the policy revisions provide the, “guardrails, information, support to do the implementation.”
“I think it certainly does,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. “The language that is being proposed actually is taken right out of the statute for people who might not know the citation. Probably the longest discussion was about the requirement of the principal – if it’s necessary to take any action regarding a student publication to inform individuals of that. The policy committee asked that we in our procedures be sure that we outline the steps that the principal would take and how the principal would indeed make that notification.”
“I just wanted to add that I appreciated Dr. Witherspoon at the policy committee meeting sort of cutting to the heart of things,” said Board Member Jonathan Baum. “I think this is exactly what the law intended.”
This was the first reading of the policy recommendation. The Board will vote at the May 7 meeting.