Principal Sherrill Stephens
Globe High School
455 North Willow St
Globe, AZ 85501
Superintendent Dr. Timothy Trent
Robert Miller, Interim Business Operations Dir.
501 East Ash St
Globe, AZ 85501
March 4, 2008
Dear Principal Sherrill Stephens, Superintendent Dr. Timothy Trent and Mr. Robert Miller,
We are deeply concerned about the confiscation of the recent edition of Globe High School’s student-run newspaper The Papoose. According to the school’s statement, the paper was pulled because of an “article on how to build and use a bong, the picture on the front page of a person using a hookah, and the quotes of students known to be underage, who seem to be talking favorably about tobacco use.” In our view, this is precisely the kind of censorship the First Amendment prohibits.
The Papoose openly states that it “does not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of Globe High School administrators or staff” and that it is “a public forum and retains all rights as such entities.” As a result, school officials have no basis for controlling its content. However, even if the newspaper was not a public forum, school officials could only censor it when such exercise of authority was “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical purposes,” which is not the case here.
It would be difficult to prove that this article lacks educational merit or would cause significant disruption. The article merely details how a hookah functions, not instructions on “how to build a bong and use one.” Rather, The Papoose article addresses what seems to be the growing use of hookahs and informs students about the serious health risks associated with smoking tobacco with a hookah.
In our experience, controversies of this sort are best handled by enriching the conversation, not restricting it. We suggest that you allow the paper to be distributed and structure opportunities for students to engage in a discussion about the issues it raised, through classroom projects, assemblies, etc. This allows for a supervised conversation in response to the article without silencing the students’ voices.
As one federal judge expressed it, “The schoolroom prepares children for citizenship, and the proper exercise of the First Amendment is a hallmark of citizenship in our country.” (Chandler v. McMinnville School Dist., 978 F.2d 524 (9th Cir. 1992)). Education in a democratic society requires that schools develop citizens who can adapt to changing times, understand important social issues, and effectively express their opinions. Public schools not only provide students with knowledge of many subject areas and training in essential skills but also educate students about core American values such as freedom of speech and the press, and the role of discussion and debate in a democratic society. An engaged student body and a vital student newspaper are invaluable in this effort, and we urge you to do everything possible to encourage such a school environment.
We are pleased to hear that you have agreed to reimburse The Papoose for its confiscated issue and that you are working with the staff to get the paper running again. We urge you to go one step further and reinstate The Papoose as a student-run paper. This is an opportunity to teach your students not only about the risks of tobacco, but also about one of our country’s most fundamental principles: the right to free speech.
National Coalition Against Censorship