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In Arizona, high school administrators can decide what may or may not be published in student newspapers.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.

"When you take stories and you make them sound good to a certain person [the principal], that's not journalism," says Connerly.

This past school year, employees at Tolleson and Westview high schools were at odds with district officials over back pay. Wages for the 1996-97 school year had been frozen to offset a deficit.

During the last weeks of the school year, a majority of the teachers and support staff dressed in black tee shirts in a show of solidarity and protest.

Marvin Hanashiro, editor of the Knightly News, wrote a story about the dispute.

On the day of deadline, Hanashiro turned his story in to Westview principal Steve Knight.

Knight didn't like it and faxed copies of the story to superintendent Kino Flores and members of the school board, according to Hanashiro.

Knight tells New Times that the story contained inaccuracies, and was biased in favor of the teachers. He wanted Flores and the school board to approve the story before it was published.

Hanashiro says he negotiated with Flores to print a slightly different version of the story.

"This time, Mr. Flores had more quotes or more explanations for his actions in the story," says Hanashiro, who graduated from Westview. In the first version, Hanashiro had gotten his information about Flores' views from a district spokesman, Hanashiro says.

Knight says Flores didn't approve of the story, but it ran anyway.
"It was an embarrassment to the superintendent, because it was not factual," says Knight.

He says the version that ran still gave more light to the teachers' side rather than the superintendent's.

Students and educators alike believe that a free-expression bill could never pass in the state of Arizona.

Sponsor Joe Eddie Lopez plans to reintroduce his bill during the next legislative session. But he's not optimistic.

"If a proper job in educating the Legislature is done, a majority of them can be swayed," says Lopez, one of 12 Democratic representatives that make up the 30-member Senate.

During the last session, Lopez was the only lawmaker to vote for the bill because legislators like John Huppenthal felt that high school publications don't operate like professional media.

"When student publications work someone over with a hatchet, you can't define whose words those are," says Huppenthal.

Huppenthal's views echo those of the Arizona School Board Association's, in that legally and organizationally, there is no clear entity that can be held responsible for a story.

During the last session, Lopez's bill wasn't on the agenda until the Senate's last day to hear it. Lopez had to make a special request for the bill to be heard. No one lobbied for the bill.

"If nobody is going to lobby for this legislation, and if young people and their parents aren't going to contact the Legislature with their concerns, then this legislation is not going to go anywhere," says Lopez.

Mark Goodman of the Student Press Law Center says most states where legislation has been introduced have failed to exempt schools from Hazlewood.

"The problem is that we're talking about laws that affect or benefit people who are pretty politically powerless and as a result not very influential--high school students," Goodman says.

Michelle Beaver believes a bill like Lopez's will never pass in Arizona. She spent almost two years of fighting and debating with her principal, superintendent and the Arizona Legislature.

For Beaver, journalism has lost much of its allure at Tolleson. Her desire to explore challenging issues has eroded. She says the ordeal with Rega "kind of limited us to [writing] 'Betty the Cafeteria Lady Quits.' . . . Administrators don't care if the school has a really good paper. The only reason why they would care is if you bring home a nice big award--and we did that.

"They did their best to exterminate us." Beaver, who is entering her senior year, will not work on the newspaper.

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