Extra Censory

In Arizona, high school administrators can decide what may or may not be published in student newspapers. They are not bashful about protecting their own interests.

The Tolleson district paid up to $500,000 to implement this program and hire teachers to write the textbook and develop the lesson plans.

In their opinion columns, Beaver and the math teacher expressed concerns over the program's efficacy. Beaver's column quoted another math teacher as saying that the program would not prepare students for higher levels of math.

Newspaper adviser James felt the program "was the pet project of the superintendent and the assistant superintendent."

Principal Rega felt that the material was biased. "I just don't think they did their homework," Rega tells New Times. "I told them if they wanted to put that out in the following month's newspaper with balance, then I'd have no problem with it."

Rega concedes that a principal's job could be jeopardized by a "scathing and unbalanced" article. He also acknowledged that district administrators and school board members were not eager to see the package published.

"If a story ran about a math program that a school board member put all of his heart into, it could upset them," Rega says.

James counters: "Whether the math program is good or not was not really the issue. The issue is should my students have the right to comment on the new math program, especially since the district invested a half-million dollars in the development of the program."

James says that for the very next issue of The Wolver, another editor submitted an opinion piece on censorship. But Rega balked again.

"The principal said we couldn't run it in the form that it is written," James says. The author rewrote it and submitted it again.

"He wanted it to be watered down so much that there wouldn't be much point to running it. He even wanted the word 'censorship' taken out because he said that is not a correct word. 'Editorial privilege' is what he wanted." It never was published.

About six weeks after Rega ordered the section about the PRISMS project suppressed, James was notified that he would be transferred to another district school, Westview High in Avondale, the following year.

"The principal had said that there would have to be a change in arrangements made because he was tired of spending so much energy on this newspaper, and since he and I don't think alike that there would have to be some changes made," James says.

Rega denies that James was transferred because of disputes over the content of the newspaper. Rega says he was forced to find another adviser for Tolleson's journalism program because of a seniority-based placement clause in James' contract.

Beaver and her peers were sad to see James go.
"I considered him to be one of the smartest people I ever met," she says. "He could get you to think. He didn't think for you."

Beaver and staffers at the paper were ready to give up until they attended the Arizona Interscholastic Press Association conference in Tucson.

Mark Goodman of the Student Press Law Center was the keynote speaker, and planted the idea in their minds to draft anticensorship legislation.

Beaver contacted Senator Joe Eddie Lopez and got him copies of bills that have passed elsewhere. He drafted Senate Bill 1282.

When the measure was heard by the Senate Education Committee, only Beaver, James and his wife were present to testify.

Beaver spoke first. James followed.
"Together we were a good team. I spoke about the emotional impact of [censorship] and he spoke about who supported it and why," says Beaver.

Out of the seven members of the committee, only one person voted for SB1282, Senator Joe Eddie Lopez.

It wasn't the first time the Legislature had booted a student free-expression bill.

Similar legislation was introduced twice by Stan Furman, who is no longer a legislator. Like Lopez, Furman was inspired to introduce the legislation by a student, Kimberly Yee of Greenway High School's Demon Dispatch.

Yee wrote a story about drug dealing in the campus parking lot. She also drew editorial cartoons that didn't run.

She drew a caricature of the principal, Ed Murphy. Her adviser, Peggy Gregory, asked her not to run the cartoon. Yee instead ran a blank space where the cartoon was supposed to be. The space had the word "censored" written across it.

Furman met Yee at a Greenway School Board meeting and became interested in legislation freeing students from the bonds of Hazlewood.

Yee testified before the Senate Education Committee in 1992.
Murphy, the Greenway principal, testified against Furman's bill. He says a high school paper operates under a different context than a regular daily newspaper.

"As an administrator that is responsible for a high school, you're looking at dealing with students that are 13 through 18," says Murphy, who is now the administrator of personnel at the Glendale Union High School District.

"I think it's a unique situation in an educational setting. You're talking about kids who are not adults and some that are very young at 13 that might not be as well-equipped to handle some issues that 18-year-olds would," says Murphy, whose daughter won journalist of the year in 1994 as a reporter for the Demon Dispatch.

But Furman believed Yee's story was accurate and should not have been censored.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets