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The School Newspaper of Texas High School

Tiger Times

The School Newspaper of Texas High School

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Prior review process could be dangerous


Most student journalists can give you an opinion on the 1988 Supreme Court ruling on Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. Most school administrators can tell you about the power it gives. However, few people notice the dangers that the ruling presents to the school system.

Possibly the most controversial student rights case in history, Hazelwood established the process of “prior review,” in which school administrators gained the ability to censor student publications. But just because the school has the right to control student journalists, doesn’t mean that they should.

Prior review is not a mandatory process. Whether it is enforced or not is decided by the administration or the school board. It was put in place to prevent students from publishing libelous, defamatory or poorly written stories in publications.

Though the idea sounds great, it can be devastating to the school.

First of all, prior review creates a barrier between journalism departments and administrators. If a story gets censored for what the writer thinks is an irrelevant reason, they will ultimately blame the principal who suggested the censorship. The process discourages any sort of collaboration with higher-ups due to the fear of rejection. If a student thinks their story will be pulled, why should they even write?

The excess of control that prior review gives the school encourages students to begin searching for “alternative” public forums. The Supreme Court ruling in Burch v. Barker stated that schools cannot censor publications that are not endorsed by the school. These “underground” newspapers give students more freedom with their writing. However, these newspapers do not have an editing system, meaning that libelous and defamatory writings may slip through. This is why schools hire competent journalism advisers– they give the school enough control to prevent libelous writing but do not encourage underground papers.

The best argument for abolishing prior review heavily favors the school. If the administrator in charge of reviewing student publications happens to approve a story that is offensive, libelous or defamatory, and an offended student decides to take legal action, the school must pay the price. If a school does not have prior review instituted, the school is immune from liability. Prior review makes the school responsible for student publications and rightfully so. After all, it was a school official who gave the seal of approval. And it may be that person’s job on the line, not to mention the district bank account.

The policy, though it was intended to protect student journalists, is dangerous and unnecessary. Proof is everywhere. Texas High has the only successful journalism program in Texarkana under the policy. Pleasant Grove’s award-winning journalism department has not had to abide by it and no harm has come from it, even when they cover “controversial” topics. If Texas High is successful with it, imagine the possibilities without it. The trust that their administrators put in their students gives them a reason to do their jobs well. Why should Texas High be any different? School board member and writer of “Don’t Mess with the Student Press” Marc Abrams said, “I believe student control is important not because I distrust administrators… but because I do trust the kids.”

Prior review undermines the education that a strong journalism department provides. Advisers spend three or four years preaching to students about the effects of libel and defamation, but prior review shelters kids from making mistakes. No, schools should not advocate the writing of these stories, but the students shouldn’t be allowed to get accustomed to a security blanket. Again, Abrams said it best by stating, “the freedom I advocate is not a freedom unfettered and without responsibility. It is a freedom to make mistakes and, if mistakes are made, to pay for them after the fact.”

It is in Texas High’s best interest to discontinue its use of the censorship process. There is no reason to keep it. The journalism department is controlled by intelligent, award-winning students. And if the need ever came for more stringent regulations, put it back into place. But until a reason is given, the student press should just be left alone. The power to censor is still there, but unless a disturbance is caused that the press can’t control, it should not be used.

As Abrams put it, “Does the fact that we can exercise the power mean that we should?”


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About the Contributor
Taylor Potter, Co-editor in chief
As a singer, he’s horrible. As a dancer, he nauseating. As a journalist, he’s one of the three co-editors in chief. Senior Taylor Potter is entering his third year of writing for the Tiger Times, and his second year of bossing around younger staff members. He is a member of NHS, Quill and Scroll and is a 2013 Al Neuharth Free Spirit Scholar. While his singing, dancing, acting, fighting, whistling, snapping and gymnastics skills are mediocre, his ability to write and speak in a Batman voice is unmatched.

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    Daniel PellegrinNov 16, 2012 at 3:38 am

    Awesome article Taylor! I agree with you fully, censorship not only prevents one story from being published but it also creates a chiller effect, which further suppresses creative thought. I hope the administration realizes their policy only makes the school look like a place of creative suppression instead of academic expansion. Nice work

  • S

    stacy stanleyNov 14, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Well said. Even though the temptation to take authority is overwhelming….this is an instance where it actually would be in the admins best interest to avoid the temptation. For a lot of reasons, which i will not rehash since you did it so succinctly. -S

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Prior review process could be dangerous