Red Tide #13
Board Supports Censorship
[By] Michael Letwin – Uni High
On March 25th, one of those strange meetings took place at the Board of Education[,] in a committee [that] was assigned to deal with the question of censorship of [official] school newspapers.
This issue has been raised strongly for about a year, primarily by a teacher at Canoga Park High in the Valley, Mike Weiner, who is the journalism advisor, and who has been fighting to have freedom of expression in school newspapers.
The Board of Education wants to be able to make sure that[,] while they now are sometimes forced to allow off-campus publications a certain amount of freedom, they still have control over school newspapers.
Anyone who has ever worked on the staff of a school paper will know that students can print only what the teacher “advisor” and/or school administration allows. Articles are always being censored that criticize the school, or in some cases, the policies of the government or those that express unpopular ideas.
The Board’s main argument was that since school papers are part of the normal school curriculum, they are not covered by the U.S. Constitution or by the State Education Code (section 10611)[,] both of which guarantee students the right of freedom of expression on campus. This view was expressed especially by Board member Newman, and by the Board’s attorney, Ron Apperson.
Apperson put forward a proposal[,] which says that it is the principal and school authorities who should decide what should be able to go into school papers. It also said that under certain conditions[,] students should be able to write controversial articles. However, anyone who has ever dealt with administrators knows that in a rule that gives them any power of censorship, it will be used more often than not as an excuse to suppress students’ rights to express themselves.
Sometimes when articles are censored, the student who wrote it suffers personally. For instance[,] there was an incident at Palisades High School where a woman who wrote an article denouncing the War in Vietnam was sent to “opportunity room” for several days, and upon returning was told to write an article on the cheerleaders. Although such drastic measures usually do not occur, censorship on a daily basis of school papers happens all the time.
Another thing that happens on many occasions is that students have been taught so well throughout their years in school that you are not supposed to write articles that do not deal with the homecoming queen and senior class activities, that students do not even think of writing different kinds of articles. It is this censorship[,] [which] is much more subtle and effective[,] that is most dangerous.
RED TIDE SPEAKERS
At the [Board of Education] meeting, speakers from the Red Tide attempted to make the above points, but as usual, the Board members said that they’d “think about it.” This lack of response was just as true for “liberal” member Hardy as it was for conservative Newman.
Finally on April 22nd, the Board of Education voted 4-3 to allow principals to censor whatever they want out of school newspapers. The decision was summed up in a statement by reactionary Board member Chambers, when he said that papers must reflect “morality, ethnics and good taste.” His no doubt.
Mike Weiner is not giving up. He and the Journalism Teachers Association are suing the Board of Education to allow more freedom in school papers. We support the actions of these journalism teachers. Yet we do have some tactical criticisms. They have failed to solicit active student support for their actions, a step [that] is indispensable to the success and maintenance of student rights. We also go a step beyond the JTA.
We feel that the only real solution to the question of censorship is not to have any. Once any power is granted to administrators to censor, it will probably be abused. School papers should be run by the students and teachers who [produce] them, with all students and teachers having access to them. This is a democratic solution, [and] in our opinion, the only lasting one.
[Historical Note: The Red Tide was a revolutionary high school underground newspaper and youth organization that existed from 1971-1981. See: http://theredtide.wordpress.com/]