From Street Law, one of the resources developed for teaching justice classes at the high school level:
" . . . educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns." —Justice White, speaking for the majorityI reference this landmark Supreme Court case because we are seeing it play out locally in Wisconsin right now. Apparently, an article (or more than one actually) that ran in the February issue of "Cardinal Columns" has rubbed the administration and Superintendent the wrong way, forcing them to now demand oversight of the newspaper/magazine before publication.
Hazelwood East High School Principal Robert Reynolds procedurally reviewed the Spectrum, the school’s student-written newspaper, before publication. In May 1983, he decided to have certain pages pulled because of the sensitive content in two of the articles, and acted quickly to remove them in order to meet the paper’s publication deadline. The journalism students felt that this censorship was a direct violation of their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court decided that Principal Reynolds had the right to such editorial decisions, as he had “legitimate pedagogical concerns.”
Oh, and their rationale and procedure for informing the students of this new "exercise" of their oversight powers is not sitting well with the student population. (And, as I've heard through the grapevine, the staff either.)
From the Fond du Lac Reporter:
Fond du Lac High School journalists have launched a petition this week to halt censorship by school officials of a student publication.
The new administrative mandate was spurred by the February issue of Cardinal Columns that featured a story titled: “The Rape Joke."
Written by Fond du Lac High School senior Tanvi Kumar, the investigative piece documents a prevailing rape culture within the school and its impact on students who are survivors of sexual abuse.
The piece features stories of three rape victims. Their names have been changed in the story.Whoa... Pretty heavy stuff here. Rape jokes? In a student newspaper?
Ohhh, I see, it's an investigative piece that documents rape culture at a large high school in East-Central Wisconsin. Hmmm, sounds like an interesting topic to research, and also alarming that there is a "rape culture" at our high schools.
So, what happened because this article was run?
On Monday Fond du Lac High School Principal Jon Wiltzius told journalism classes new school guidelines require that all stories meet his approval before publication and are subject to rejection.
“This is a reasonable expectation,” Wiltzius said. “My job is to oversee the global impact of everything that occurs within our school and I have to ensure I am representing everyone and there was some questionable content.”Oh, so this is why I put the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeyer prelude on the top of this posting.
The Reporter article then notes that the petition on Change.Org forwards to the Fond du Lac Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jim Seibert. So, why does he fit into this saga? Again, from the Reporter:
Sebert said he took issue with a picture on the inside cover that shows a woman described as “laying lifeless” in the middle of cardboard boxes. On that page the editors explain the cover photo selection process and why they rejected that (laying lifeless) picture for the cover.As someone who works in a north side Milwaukee Public Schools high school, I have to chuckle when I think that this is something he has to worry about. But, beyond that, I can't help but feel there's more at play here. Does he not like the fact that the magazine reinforces it's words with visuals? Does he dislike the explanation of why the photograph expresses what it does?
“The most recent edition raised some questions in my mind after reading it as to interference with the educational process, educational environment, and the rights of other students,” Sebert said in an email to The Reporter.
What rights are the editors and publishers of the Cardinal Columns trampling on? I'm pretty lost on that justification.
As for why "educational process" and "educational environment" are used, reference that Supreme Court case...
Seriously, what's going on?
He points to aspects of “The Rape Joke” article — which includes some graphic description of the types of rape a student endured, a letter from the editors called “The Punchline,” and a Pledge of Allegiance editorial that instructs students on their rights to not stand during the Pledge as questionable material for a school publication. Sebert said he and Wiltzius met with Matthew Smith, the print journalism teacher at the high school and adviser to the magazine’s staff, to discuss the issues.Really?
Look, we can all pretend to live in our own little bubbles, but if we truly want to protect our high school students, we make them aware of the world around them, not insulate them. If people don't think that the youngest high school freshman, a 14 year old, doesn't have experiences, expressions, sayings, or thoughts so vulgar that it would make a sailor blush, you really hasn't been in a high school recently. Right, wrong, or otherwise, it's the world we live in.
While graphic depictions of rape are indeed heavy subjects to tackle in a high school newspaper/magazine, it's part of the high school student's world. To deny that is to deny the reality of the world students live in. See Jay Bullock's latest article at OnMilwaukee on the reality of the lives students he and I teach every day in Milwaukee.
But, after that, Dr. Seibert is scared about a column that, almost tongue-in-cheek, says don't stand for the Pledge of Allegiance to see what happens? Also, it's not like this isn't another example of an issue that divides Americans and is part of our public discussion... This sounds more to me like administration trying to keep everyone in line and not let the public forum of a school newspaper serve it's purpose.
“Cardinal Columns is created as part of the print journalism class at Fond du Lac High School,” Sebert wrote. “District resources are utilized and the publication represents the school and the district. The guidelines created will ensure this publication as well as any school-sponsored publications are reviewed by the principal prior to print and publication. This is a reasonable expectation for a school-sponsored publication.”
In short - "We don't want to tick off any of the people in this community who pay taxes by saying things that may make them uncomfortable. So, we're going to put these kids in their place and tell them to stop stepping out of line..."
I wish I didn't believe that, but in the post 2011 Act 10 world, referendums mean everything.
So, what is the policy in place before this article? Was it a free-for-all? Well, not exactly:
School Board policy, adopted in 1988 outlines expectations for student publications and states they are subject to school guidelines as determined by the principal.
The principal may refuse to publish any materials for numerous reasons, according to the new school guidelines.Hmm, 1988. What happened that year? (Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier)
While the guidelines may already be in place, to have come down on the students in the way they did seems exceedingly overhanded, especially because this article does not appear to be sophomoric in humor nor content. It seeks to be an active and very real piece of true journalism.
So, what does the author have to say?
The controversy has spurred a flurry of comments at the petition site as well as Twitter account @Cardinal Columns and Kumar’s account@Tanviikumar , where she fired back in a publicly-posted letter to Sebert. In it she states the article had “a lasting effect on this student body and inspired many people.”
Kumar said she was repulsed by the behavior exhibited by people in the high school, pointing to a supposedly student-run twitter account called “Ethan the Rapist,” that pokes fun at a very specific rape incident and rape in general.
She said Wiltzius told students he wanted the paper to be more positive and “to bring people together.”Have the paper be more positive and bring people together? Really?!
Seriously, hold a pep-rally if that's what you want to make people feel all good about themselves. Newspapers, and classes designed to inspire the next generation of journalists, should not simply exist to pump up the football team, showcase the robotics team, and profile a teacher every month. They should be outlets for issues that face students at the school they attend and a public forum for enacting change.
Plus, if you look at the rest of the paper, it seems like it works at trying to build school culture to me.
If you're someone who wants to read the entire letter written by the author of the article and submitted to the Superintendent (a pretty ballsy move that I applaud) I will post it here:
Dear Dr. Sebert,
I am the author of the article entitled "The Rape Joke," an article that has had a lasting effect on this student body and inspired many people -- yourself included. You see, Dr. Sebert, I had hoped this article would inspire people to be more accepting and kind toward others. However, I see it has inspired you to create a new policy that would require us to have our materials pre-approved by you and Mr. Wiltzius so that you can put an end to articles such as "The Rape Joke."As Mr. Wiltzius spoke to us today he said he would like to see our paper be more positive -- to bring people together. In your policy you state that the principal may "refuse to publish any materials that are poorly written, inadequately researched, false, defamatory or libelous, vulgar or profane, unsuitable for immature audiences, or biased or prejudiced." You also stated in your meeting with my adviser that had it been up to you "The Rape Joke" would not be published. To this I counter, why?
I can guarantee you my story was not poorly written as many teachers have presented it to their classes as a testament to superior grammatical abilities, nor is it poorly researched as I have spoken to many experts on the subject, including the school social worker, Julie Rehfeldt, who sees rape culture as an issue here at this high school. Many local and federal agencies have been cited as the sources for my statistical evidence. The story is not false, defamatory, libelous, vulgar, or profane. Unless you view survivors of horrendous atrocities speaking out against a culture that oppresses them as "profane" or "vulgar" rather than revolutionary and novel. Perhaps you're right. It is "vulgar" to reference vile attempts at humor in a school publication; the proper thing to do is to ignore their existence altogether. What right does any institution have to try to rectify the society in which they reside? That right should rest in the hands of superintendents like yourself.
Because you're right, Dr. Sebert. While I do not classify my article "vulgar" or "profane," it is biased. It is prejudiced. I wrote this article because I was repulsed by the behavior exhibited by people in this building. I continue to be repulsed by the culture exhibited by my peers and administration. I am disgusted by the fact that you have the gall to pick faults with my article, and yet there exists a student run twitter account called "Ethan The Rapist" that pokes fun at a very specific rape incident and rape in general. I am prejudiced against an administration that wishes to silence me for speaking out about an issue that touches the lives of people in our schools and our society.
As far as our paper needing to be more positive and bring people together, I wholeheartedly agree. The negative reaction to this issue was unprecedented. After we went to print, I was inundated with emails from staff and students thanking me for writing such an article. How dare they? How dare they applaud me for using something so trivial as the press to start conversation about important issues? Some teachers even read the article to their classes to facilitate discussion and debate on the subject. Don't they know the purpose of education is limited to the memorization of text books? One teacher was even stupid enough to share her story of surviving sexual assault with me. How can we sleep at night knowing people are openly discussing things that should clearly be taboo? I am still puzzled as in to how this issue managed to be our best sold issue yet. It couldn't possibly have had any material people related to or empathized with.Thankfully you're here now, Dr. Sebert, to relieve us from our responsibility of being a voice of the students. Hopefully you can enlighten us on how to create a more positive paper. I invite you to do so by coming in and speaking with my print journalism class. We would love to hear all about how my story inspired you to create this policy. Won't you do us that honor?
Sincerely,Tanvi KumarEditor-in-Chief of Cardinal Columns
Cardinal Columns art designer, 18-year-old senior Austin Klewicki, said other articles written about school issues did not raise eyebrows. He spoke about the newly-imposed censorship rule at the Monday meeting of the Fond du Lac Board of Education.
“There have been stories on bomb threats, school store theft, drug dealers in school, a gay student coming out, and none of those rose a red flag. This story actually helped people, so I am confused,” he said....
Staff writer, 18-year-old senior Samantha Cass, said kids are being taught about safe sex in health class but they don’t discuss rape or even define it.
“Kids are having sex in high school and some don’t even know they were raped,” she said.
“We are the people that can explain rape isn’t OK,” said another staff writer, 17-year-old junior Cory Scherer. “If you aren’t clawing and getting beaten up, people think it’s not rape.So, what does the advisor for the paper have to say? (Someone who I'm sure is feeling the heat and is doing so without a safety net in the post 2011 Act 10 world):
As Cardinal Columns adviser Smith said everyone he has spoken to at the high school and in the community has given high praise to Kumar’s work.
“I think we did exactly what any newsroom would do. We had serious discussions about the article before it ran,” Smith said. “The power of the subject and the importance of the piece to help people can play a role in the language used and it was not vulgar and for the most part all the words were necessary.”
The new guidelines will not change the stories students report or how he teaches journalism, Smith emphasized.I sure hope so. I enjoyed the work students put out when I was a student at Fondy High and later as a teacher there for a short period of time.
So, what does someone who teaches about journalism, ethics, and likely deals with students like those who work for the Cardinal Columns when they've graduated to college, think about this article:
Vince Filak, a professor of journalism at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and a recent guest lecturer for Fondy High journalism students, has seen this issue played out before, but it usually involved a satirical piece gone wrong — not a well-researched article with multiple, expert sources, he said.That's pretty much exactly what I thought. And I'm a know-nothing blogger who lobs challenges at people and situations with only my own ethics and no journalistic standards. He then goes on to make a point I already had arrived to:
“I was reading the article looking for a smoking gun. Oh, God did they include some kind of rape joke or name somebody, but there wasn’t anything that made me wince,” he said.
“The new policy has a lot of impact I don’t think administrators — when they apply it — fully understand what they are doing to students,” Filak said. “Open discourse and freedom of the press leads to incredible journalism and instead they are basically telling students they don’t trust them.”Apparently, that's fine with school Principal Jon Wiltzius:
Wiltzius said he has had no complaints about the stories printed in the February publication, but he has had issues in the past with some of the articles that have appeared in Cardinal Columns.
“We want a process in place so the building principal has oversight and guidance about the messages we are sending out into the community,” he said.To rephrase - "We don't want anything but a positive, squeaky clean image being portrayed of our school"
Am I the only one that thought of this imagery?
Kudos to the Fond du Lac Reporter for pointing out how ridiculous the Principal sounds by noting the following right after his quote about sending messages to the community:
Linda Selk-Yerges, executive director of ASTOP, a Fond du Lac non-profit organization dedicated to aiding victims of sexual assault, said she picked up 30 copies of the article to distribute to staff and her board of directors. ASTOP prevention educator Courtney Kolb is quoted in the story.
“I am very proud of what Tanvi did. She took a subject that you can tell is very polarizing and people don’t want to talk about and she really put it out there. The things she said are not lies,” Selk-Yerges said.Yup, that's right, if the Principal had their way, ASTOP wouldn't have gotten the message from the high school and would not have had something physical to distribute to those it serves.
So, what about the school board? They seem to be the only person not involved in this circus yet:
School Board President Elizabeth Hayes said she objected to the headline “The Rape Joke” because people might not understand it, as well as the article on the Pledge of Allegiance.So, she objects to the article's title and because she somehow doesn't think it shows respect?
“This publication is supported by taxpayer funds and it should be held to a high standard,” Hayes said. “And we should also be encouraging students to hold high standards of respect.”
You know what I don't think shows respect? The fact that the School Board President, Superintendent of the Fond du Lac School District, and Principal of Fond du Lac High School didn't hold these students up as an example of what's possible with the written word, as shining examples of the well rounded and high quality education that teachers in their school are doing, and then give these students the professional courtesy of meeting with them to discuss any concerns they had in a professional and courteous manner.
Administration could've made this a "teachable moment" where the entire staff of the newspaper could be involved with assessing their standards and enlighten the administration to their process. Instead, they've created a media circus, turned their student body against them, forced their teachers to be concerned about speaking their minds or encouraging their students to speak theirs, and are now drawing attention to something that I'm sure everyone wishes they didn't have to deal with.
Nice work Cardinal Columns. You've done what most true journalists do, uncover a story where they never realized one existed.