Yesterday morning I walked into work with a message already waiting for me. It was from an Iowa high school journalism adviser. The note was a few sentences long, but instantly I zeroed in on just two words.
It was going to be one of those days.
In Iowa, prior restraint violates state law. We’re fortunate to have a relatively free student press. A few schools suffer through prior review – which does not violate state law – but prior restraint is a no-no.
(I’m not going to reveal the school or many details that would give away the school. Our conversation was private.)
It seems a teacher in the school – not an administrator – did not like a story and made off with the print run. The adviser went to the principal, who said he would review it. Three weeks passed and the paper was still confiscated, even though by all accounts the questionable story was reported accurately and, quite honestly, was not the slightest bit controversial.
So the adviser called the Iowa High School Press Association. By the time I got her message, it had been a few hours. I called her back. Good news. The principal not only said he wasn’t confiscating the issue, he apologized for not getting back to the adviser sooner. For lack of a better explanation, he got caught up in other matters and forgot about the newspaper. The paper was distributed, and the principal said he would have a discussion with the offended teacher who began this nonsense.
Small victories. That’s what we need sometimes. Not a legal fight. Not a call to SPLC. Just a reasonable discussion with an administrator who “gets it.”
Was the newspaper staff completely unscathed? No. Only about two-thirds of the press run saw distribution. The adviser suspects the overprotective teacher has the remaining one-third stashed away – if they even exist anymore.
If so, it’s theft. But we came up with a different idea. In their next issue, the staff will consider putting a standalone infobox on the front page with words similar to these:
“More than 30 percent of the previous issue of XXXXX was confiscated by a teacher in our school, which violates state and local school board policy, and was condemned by Principal NAME. The subject of the story in question – a tribute to the life of a student who died over the summer – no doubt meant a lot to a lot of people. If you would like a copy of the article, please come by our office in Room XXX and we will make one available to you.”
Small victories. Few and far between, but oh so sweet.
Find Dave Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.