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Free Speech: District's move to silence school reporters backfires

Free Speech: District's move to silence school reporters backfires

December 6th, 2018 by Gazette Staff in Opinion Editorial

You would think the Springdale, Ark., School District and the administration of Harber High School would be proud of the staff of its school newspaper, the Har-ber Herald.

The students spent a month investigating allegations that five Harber varsity football players had improperly transferred to rival Springdale High during the 2017 school year. The young journalists even reported that two of the students admitted transferring for a better chance at playing football—a violation of district rules that allow only legitimate academic transfers. Indeed, if that was the intent the improper transfers would make them ineligible to play. That raised questions about why the district gave its OK to the transfers.

The student reporters did a good job. They apparently were trained well by the Har-ber High journalism faculty. But the district didn't see it that way.

You see, the story got a lot of reaction from students and parents, who wondered just what the heck was going on in the district. That didn't sit well with administrators. The district's superintendent, Jim Rollins, ordered the article removed from the paper's website, calling it "intentionally negative, demeaning, hurtful and potentially harmful to the students." He also said it was "divisive and disruptive" to the school and community, according to an Associated Press report Tuesday.

It gets worse. High school principal Paul Griep shut down the paper until new guidelines for articles could be formulated. He threatened the faculty advisor with termination if the newspaper continued to publish without permission.

Now, it's important to understand no one was disputing the story. Apparently it's not the facts that are in question.

No, the district and high school administration just didn't like their dirty laundry aired in a public forum. Despite that fact that student publications are guaranteed free expression under Arkansas state law.

After the news broke on Buzzfeed on the first of this month, the district caught a lot of flack over the suppression of the story and the shuttering of the paper. There was even talk of legal action. And so on Tuesday afternoon they allowed the article to be republished on the paper's website.

Score one for the good guys.

We hope the students keep up the good work. And we hope the school administartors learned something. Don't try to silence the press, even the student press. It will only backfire and make sure everyone knows about the story you wanted to suppress.

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