Although prior review may be necessary to prevent students from publishing material that is libelous, obscene, or reasonably expected to disrupt school activities, it is also frequently used to stifle reporting on controversial subjects. Indeed, in Falls Church, Virginia, school officials have used prior review to censor articles on important school issues such as graffiti on campus and chronic absenteeism amongst the senior class. This censorship prompted senior Kate Karstens, the editor-in-chief of George Mason High School’s newspaper, to launch an effort to repeal the District’s prior review policy. “There are some subjects we know will get censored, so we don’t even try,” she told NCAC in an August interview, referring to how she was deterred from covering her school's abstinence-only education policy.
On October 11, Ms. Karstens spoke at a meeting of the Falls Church City Public Schools Board, urging its members to repeal the prior review policy.
NCAC has observed increasing momentum in a recent movement to protect student press rights. About a dozen states forbid prior review of student newspapers. Maryland outlawed the practice in April, and Illinois enacted its law in August. Three states are currently considering similar legislation.
The letter was co-signed by the Student Press Law Center, which has offered to work with Falls Church City Public Schools in drafting a new policy. Other co-signatories are American Booksellers for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, Authors Guild, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Journalism Education Association, and National Council of Teachers of English.
Read the full letter below; click here for a full screen view.
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