Mo. high school newspaper delayed over officials’ review

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Editor’s note: The Boonville Daily News filed a public-records request with the Boonville R-1 School District on Oct. 12 regarding the administration’s decision to delay the distribution of its student paper on Oct. 2. The documents received by the newspaper did not include the requested copy of a district protocol requiring that the principal review the student paper before its publication, according to the Daily News.

School administrators at Missouri’s Boonville High School halted the
distribution of the student newspaper Oct. 2 because the principal said he did
not review the paper before its publication, as required by district policy.

School officials removed the unreviewed copies of the Pirate Press
around lunchtime that day after Boonville schools Superintendent Mark Ficken
asked that distribution be stopped. Pirate Press Editor-in-Chief Emily
Voss told the Student Press Law Center that she re-distributed the newspapers to
students after Ficken reversed his decision later that day. Ficken did not,
however, allow the issue to be distributed as usual as a monthly insert in the
Boonville Daily News,
according to the SPLC.

Ficken requested the removal after Principal Jay Webster told him he was
unable to edit the newspaper before it went to press. Ficken told the Daily
that he did not know why the principal had not reviewed the paper. Voss
told the SPLC that the issue was indeed approved by both the newspaper’s
adviser, Stephanie Carey, and the principal.

Ficken reviewed the Pirate Press after speaking with Webster, Ficken
told the Daily News. He said the issue included inappropriate quotes from
students about school personnel and facilities. Ficken cited three articles that
he said contained inappropriate statements, according to the Daily

A front-page article on student opinions of school lunches quoted one student
as saying, “School lunch sucks! I don’t know, it’s not that lunch ladies don’t
work hard enough. It’s the fact that we don’t like what they cook; not enough

“I think that there’s better verbiage to use,” Ficken told the Daily
calling the word “sucks” an obscenity. He added that the school’s food
service abides by the Missouri Department of Education standards, and said the
article downgraded employees who “work so hard and do a really, really good

Another front-page article included a quote from a student calling school
buses overcrowded: “It’s ridiculous how over crammed we are. We’re like pack
sardines in here, sweaty sardines.” Ficken dismissed this comment as untrue.
“Buses are not overloaded, they are safe,” Ficken told the Daily News. He
added that the Pirate Press article could unnecessarily worry parents.

The third article in dispute involved discrimination against students by
socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, race and gender. One student quote
labeled gay people as freaks. Ficken called that comment “inappropriate” and
said editors must choose quotes carefully. Such comments “can be disruptive to
the educational process,” Ficken told the Daily News. He cited fighting
and gossiping as potential disruptions.

Ficken said the school would continue to publish the student newspaper as
long as it followed district protocol, according to the Daily News.
Although the administration and board of education want students to learn by
producing a paper, Ficken said, production cannot include inappropriate language
or belittling of staff. “I’m not going to stand for that,” he said.

Under the standard created by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hazelwood
School District v. Kuhlmeier
(1988), school administrators can remove
material deemed inappropriate, Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank
LoMonte told the Daily News. “What’s worrisome,” he said, “is the idea
that material that’s simply critical of the school could be cited as grounds for
withholding the paper.”

Allie Diffendal is a senior majoring in political science and American
studies at Vanderbilt University.