SPJ speaks out against censorship of student newspaper in Wentzville, Mo.

On March 23, the Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter to
administrators in Wentzville R-IV School District that addressed the
Timberland High School principal’s decision to institute prior review on the
student newspaper. Leaders of SPJ disagreed with the censorship and voiced
their disappointment to Principal Winston Rogers, Wentzville School District
Superintendent Terry Adams and the members of the Wentzville School District
Board of Education. The letter follows:

Mr. Winston Rogers
Principal
Timberland High
559 E Hwy N
Wentzville, MO 63385

Dear Principal Winston Rogers, Superintendent Terry Adams and members of the
Wentzville School District Board of Education:

Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists are disappointed to learn
about the decision to institute prior review on The Wolf’s Howl, the student
newspaper at Timberland High School.

We understand that high school administrators have a responsibility to help
provide a safe and nurturing environment for their students, and we know
their job is difficult. But the recent actions taken against The Wolf’s Howl
including the requirement that an issue of the newspaper be pulled from
distribution because it included articles about and photos of tattoos  do
more to harm the students than to help them.

A student newspaper needs to be a place where students can read about and
discuss issues that are important to them even if those issues sometimes
make people uncomfortable. Of course, administrators should prevent students
from publishing any content typically considered to be unprotected speech,
such as libel or obscenity. And administrators have a right to control
expression that clearly would violate privacy or substantially disrupt the
school. But restricting student expression over matters of personal taste
protects no one, and it runs the risk of chilling speech about important
issues.

Administrators at some schools prefer that their student “newspapers”
publish nothing controversial, that the student journalists report only on
positive events. But those publications are not really newspapers, and they
teach students nothing about journalism or the role that journalism plays in
our society.

So far, the restrictions placed on The Wolf’s Howl have disrupted the
school, cost the district a fine newspaper adviser and focused unwanted
national attention on the district. Continuing these restrictions will only
cause further damage to a once well-respected student publication, and it
will send the message to students that governmental control of the news
media is valued over a free press. We urge that Principal Rogers abandon
efforts to conduct prior review over the student newspaper, and we ask that
he work with the student staff to provide a responsible, vibrant and
important newspaper that students want to read.

The Society of Professional Journalists is a broad-based, national
journalism organization founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi. SPJ promotes the
free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry, works to
inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First
Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

Sincerely,

Kevin Smith
President

Neil Ralston
Vice President, Campus Chapter Affairs

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