School yearbook, staff talks censorshipWEST FARGO – Some West Fargo High School students are at odds with administrators over the definition of censorship.
By: Kelly Smith, The Forum, Worthington Daily Globe
WEST FARGO – Some West Fargo High School students are at odds with administrators over the definition of censorship.
For weeks, the yearbook class argued against administrators’ request to include photos of their peers at the Community High School in the yearbook for the first time.
The students even volunteered to take lowered grades for not following the request.
They say they protested not because they wanted to be exclusive but because they didn’t want administrators “controlling content” of their student-run, self-funded publication.
Principal Gary Clark contends, though, that they aren’t censoring the student publication – just including all students.
“I felt it was an equity issue,” Clark said. “I certainly feel very strongly about freedom of the press. This is the only time there’s ever been any administrative involvement with the yearbook.”
He said that, if the students didn’t include their peers at the alternative high school, the district could’ve faced a lawsuit.
“This is a bigger issue – to include everybody; you can’t let kids decide that,” Clark said. “I’ve got to represent all the kids.”
The issue developed when a Community High School parent voiced concern to Principal Tom Gravel that their student wasn’t going to be pictured in the high school yearbook.
In October, administrators issued the request to yearbook adviser Jeremy Murphy. It was not well-received by his students.
“I think, for a majority of our staff, (they’re upset) … because they’re telling us what to do,” yearbook organization editor Miranda Mars said. “This was not a yearbook decision.”
So, they met with administrators throughout the past few months, trying to negotiate the issue.
“It’s disappointing that they weren’t allowed to practice (freedom of expression) to the full extent,” said Murphy, who added that, at times, he was worried he could lose his adviser position over this issue. “Whenever I talk about it, I get physically ill.”
The students claim, though, that this isn’t the first time administrators have tried to control them, adding that their adviser or newspaper editors are called to the office when the paper runs columns that “ruffle feathers.”
“We’ve had situations where we’ve been close to being held back,” said newspaper assistant editor Molly English, who researched media law, talked with attorneys, and sifted through public e-mails between administrators to write a news story about the yearbook issue for the student newspaper.
“If they do it for the yearbook, they could do it to newspaper, too,” yearbook layout editor Shelby Foltz said.
Administrators counter, though, that they’re, in essence, the publishers of the publications.
“I think yearbooks and newspapers are academic products of the school in which the principal is in charge,” said Gravel, the Community High School principal. “The school is the publisher.”
“I’m not critical; I love those kids and they do a fantastic job with the yearbook,” added Clark, WFHS’ principal. “I just felt someone had to make the decision what was right for kids.”
The issue “fizzled” recently when the yearbook students agreed to include the Community High School photos after Clark pointed out the possibility of a district lawsuit. It requires adding six pages, which will cost them $1,000 more to produce the yearbook.
But the discussion itself hasn’t fizzled.
“Some good things did come out of it; it’s created a good discussion,” said Murphy, who wants a district officials to create a policy addressing school publications.
“There’s officials who think I should have more control,” he said. “What are you promoting if you control content? You’re not setting them up to be citizens in a democracy.”