Administrators censor controversial student publications


Lila Alvarado

Outside her feature photography class at MediaNowSTL, Miranda Moore stands smiling. Her experiences of conflict between staff and school administration are not unique, as publications across the country experience similar issues.

Student Miranda Moore’s newspaper staff at Pittsburg High School tried to run a story about sex in May 2013 as the final installment of their five-part health series. The story focused on the emotional implications of having sex. The featured picture was staged by the staff members themselves, with two pairs of bare feet hanging off a bed in an intimate manner.

The principal sometimes viewed more controversial stories before the publishing date, and reacted strongly to the photo. Much like several other staff-administration relationships around the country, Pittsburgh High School’s principal and newspaper staff were now on the rocks.

“Our principal came in, because this was a really edgy story and we wanted to kind of get his review on it even though the Kansas law doesn’t dictate that… he was just shocked,” said Moore.

Even though she had been part of another conflict with the principal just a few years before, adviser Emily Smith was reluctant to bring up the students’ First Amendment rights.

“We brought in the former KSPA director and two of the KU professors…they came and talked to our school; our principals didn’t come. I really try to stay away from [the First Amendment] because they automatically are defensive. I really try to avoid it,” said Smith.

The Tinker and Hazelwood cases both affected how school authorities handle student presses today. The Tinker case in 1969 gave students more freedom through expression. Hazelwood in 1988 restricted that freedom by giving school administrators the power of censorship if the student publications met one of several criteria. Some states have enacted laws to give their students a bit more freedom after Hazelwood. Publication staff members can get information on what rights they have at the Student Press Law Center website.

Despite the opposition to the controversial article at Pittsburgh High School, the staff persevered and the principal relented, allowing the publication to run the article. Now, they receive less opposition, but still make sure all their publication decisions are well thought out and justified.

“Overall, I think our administration kind of lets us do what we want,” said Moore, “because they know that we really have a thought process behind things.”