Monday, March 12, 2007

Still awaiting vote on HB 1307 as unwarranted censorship in Washington continues

Even as we continue to wait for a vote on House Bill 1307, the Student Free Press Bill, censorship (unfortunately) continues to be alive and well in Washington State, as a pair of incidents have further underscored the need for legislation.

The most egregious incident happened last week at Vashon High School, where Principal Susan Hanson barred the staff of The Riptide from publishing an article. While the subject of the article has not been made public, it ostensibly was about a school staff member, as Hanson used the following rationale for her decision in a letter sent to The Riptide staff:

“A student newspaper is not an appropriate vehicle for airing concerns, complaints or criticisms about District staff.”

Both a reporter at The (Tacoma) News Tribune and the Student Press Law Center vetted the story, even as the district continues to use the Hazelwood Supreme Court decision to justify its stance.

Additionally, the staff of the Lake Stevens High School newspaper The Valhalla was subjected to censorship last month when Principal Ken Collins told the staff it could not run a story about a teacher’s controversial assignment, even though it had already been covered by the local media.

Although adviser Aaron Coe said a compromise was reached, he also told the Student Press Law Center, "You kind of wonder what would happen if something bigger happens down the road."

The principals in both situations seemed to be seeking to avoid controversy, but the irony is that they are creating it with their misguided application of the Hazelwood decision.

To the contrary of both principals’ stances, this is exactly why House Bill 1307 is so badly needed: District staff are agents of the government, and the student media is precisely the place for this kind of responsible dialogue. Any attempt to suppress this kind of dialogue – even if it’s simply reaching a “compromise” on an article – amounts to governmental censorship.

If you wish to contact any of the parties involved, here are their e-mail addresses:

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