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In Arizona, high school administrators can decide what may or may not be published in student newspapers.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 grounds for killing the story were not the accuracy of the story but that it would be detrimental to the image of the school," says Furman.

Murphy could not recall the story Yee wrote. During the 11 years he was principal at Greenway, he said that the newspaper regularly published stories dealing with drugs and sexuality. But he also said that the administration has always tried to assure that the newspaper presented a balanced picture.

The year that Yee's story was spiked, another journalist wrote about a lunchtime car and motorcycle collision that killed a Greenway student. Murphy vetoed the story because he felt the incident had been too traumatic.

The Demon Dispatch wanted to print a photo of the accident scene, says Murphy.

"I told them that it wouldn't serve any real good purpose to have them reopen these wounds by putting in pictures of this kid's body in the street in our paper," says Murphy. "I was coming down on the side of trying to be sensitive in that regard rather than First Amendment freedom for students of the press."

In 1994, Furman introduced the bill again, but it never was assigned to committee.

Furman's bill was different from Lopez's in that it would have guaranteed free expression to student publications at public colleges and universities.

Lopez's bill dealt only with high school media, and it also contained protections for the newspaper adviser, saying, "No adviser may be fired or transferred for refusing to suppress the free-expression rights of students."

Sometimes a decision to run a story against the administration's wishes could affect an adviser's job security.

"You're standing on the top of a wall, and on one side of the wall is the administration who has hired you and to whom you're responsible. On the other side are emerging journalists you're trying to teach about freedom of the press," says Peggy Gregory, the newspaper adviser at Greenway High since the school opened 24 years ago.

Tony Gomez, newspaper adviser for Amphitheater High School in Tucson, was going to take his newspaper staff to a national journalism conference in Albuquerque.

Their trip was canceled by the principal, who took issue with a story and two photographs in the March 1991 edition of the Desert Gazette, the Amphitheater newspaper.

There was a picture of a teacher holding a cup of coffee in the school hallway--in violation of a school rule which prohibits food and drink in the hallways. An accompanying news story was about the rule itself.

The principal felt that the photo defamed the teacher.
Also, the Desert Gazette had a story criticizing the police department's "Drug Free School Zone" on the campus. According to the principal, the story cost the school police support for the zone.

After those stories and photos were published, the principal announced that she intended to begin exercising her privilege to preview the Desert Gazette.

Gomez received a letter from the principal announcing that the trip to Albuquerque was off. His students decided not to give in to the principal's demands. The staff decided to continue gathering information for stories, but stop publishing the paper.

This incident came to the attention of the Tucson media; a story about the controversy appeared in the Arizona Daily Star.

The school board met with Gomez and the principal to discuss it. The principal held firm to her demands.

After the meeting, Desert Gazette staffers held a press conference. Two Tucson TV stations aired the press conference, and the Arizona Daily Star ran a story the following day.

The school board overruled the principal and said the students could attend the convention.

Another school board meeting was held to discuss prior review. Students pleaded with the board to let them express themselves in the paper.

The school board president recommended that the Desert Gazette apologize to the teacher for the photo. The Desert Gazette staff agreed.

The board president also recommended that the principal reconsider her prior-review decision.

The principal relented and the Desert Gazette didn't stop publishing.
Media coverage of the dispute caused a sea change. Call it the power of a free press.

High school journalists' stories that deal with controversial issues like sex and drugs are heavily scrutinized.

Two years ago, the introductory journalism class at Westview High School conducted sex surveys for two weeks and interviewed members of the student body about their sexual activity.

Melissa Connerly wrote a story about promiscuity and the use of birth control.

The file folder that the Knightly News editor submitted to the assistant principal came back without the sex-survey stories in it. Connerly's story was replaced with other material.

"I think he wanted everybody to see that everybody at Westview was a virgin, and we didn't even know what condoms were, because we don't have sex," Connerly says.

She says that prior review is so routine that students expect their stories to be suppressed.

"We're scared to do the really good stories because who wants to put a month's worth of work into an in-depth story only to have it pulled at the last minute," says Connerly.

She says that the paper sticks to safe stories, like sports coverage and the repainting of the boys' locker room.

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