The student journalists at Har-Ber High School kids showed up to plead their case before the school board the other night, having already been successful in restoring to public view some coverage the Springdale School District's leadership didn't
Their story and editorial about student athletes transferring between schools and whether policies are ignored earned these budding reporters and editors, as well as their faculty adviser, rebuke from school officials, who would just as soon some apple carts not be disturbed. After national attention, the school district relented, in part, by allowing the story to appear anew on the Har-Ber Herald's website.
What’s the point?
The Springdale School District needs to learn from its poor handling of a student-generated news story that district officials didn’t like.
Looming is the the question of whether school administrators will now become more aggressive in controlling the content of school publications. The newspaper adviser received a reprimand for not obey a request to show Har-Ber's principal the Oct. 30 edition of the Herald before it went to print, the adviser's attorney said.
Students involved in the newspaper and yearbook told the school board this week that forcing students to submit their copy to school administrators will force delays and earlier deadlines. Anyone in newspapers will tell you earlier deadlines can be managed, but can also be an obstacle to efforts to keep reporting timely, accurate and relevant.
Prior restraint is the least beneficial approach to educating young journalists. It will always appear as though school administrators, who are usually not trained in journalism, simply are trying to avoid presentation of stories that might embarrass the district or that the want to quash criticism or scrutiny. And student journalists need to know that their reporting and editing matters and must be done judiciously. Nothing encourages that like being the last line of review before something is delivered to the public.
The story temporarily withdrawn from public view did not deserve to be. It did not represent a safety issue or anything else that demanded a censoring response. The district eventually came to that conclusion.
Here's an idea: When the administration feels a story doesn't present the full picture, address it by responding. Agree to be interviewed or, perhaps even more desirable to administrators, offer a guest column that provides the administration's view of context. In other words, deal with the issue rather than sweeping it under a rug.
So, these young journalists are learning about the challenges of the field in which they're practicing. They're learning it doesn't usually cozy them up to those in power. And at the school board meeting, it earned them applause for "courage" but nothing in the way of a substantial response to their concerns.
Here's what Superintendent Jim Rollins had to say in response to the students' pleas: "They are great kids with a passion and commitment to what they're doing," Rollins said. "On the other hand, from my chair, I have to be focused on bringing services forward that benefit all children and respect all children, including those young people who actually penned the articles. Every child in this district is important. And we've tried to operate our school system with that in mind."
Translation: A pat on the head and "get back to class, kids."
A better response? How about "We made a mistake." Because the school district did, and they blew a story worthy of some attention within the schools into one repeated in far-away places like Chicago or Kansas City.
It wasn't the school district's finest moment.
Commentary on 12/15/2018
Print Headline: Pat, pat, pat