The National Coalition Against Censorship has signed on to a letter by the Student Press Law Center calling on the Superintendent of Arkansas’s Bigelow High School to reprint yearbook pages that were censored after alleged “community backlash.” The letter also asks that the Superintendent apologize to the yearbook staff and former adviser Meghan Walter who resigned due to the censorship.
The contested pages outlined world events that took place during the 2020-2021 academic year, including the 2020 election, the impact of COVID-19, the death of George Floyd, and more.
Student journalists have First Amendment rights that their schools cannot lawfully override. As the letter to the Superintendent states:
The U.S. Supreme Court set a “floor” for the legal protection of student journalism in its 1988 ruling, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, and said that school officials have to demonstrate that their censorship is “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.” Although the Court did not specifically define every reason that could qualify as a “legitimate pedagogical concern,” lower courts have clarified that schools may not use their authority over student publications to deny information to the public purely for purposes of public-relations image control.
We share the Student Press Law Center’s concern over this display of censorship. We urge the school district to immediately reprint the yearbook spread and issue an apology to recognizing the rights of student journalists.
Read the full letter to the Superintendent here.