Addressing Censorship And Press Freedom – Editorial, Issue 7 – Volume CXII


A couple of weeks ago was student press freedom day. “The Parker Weekly” Editorial Board has decided to take this opportunity to take stock of censorship and press freedom at “the Weekly.” Currently, we do not have prior review (the administration doesn’t see the articles before they print), or prior restraint (the administration doesn’t cut content before it goes to print). Occasionally a controversial article comes into consideration and with the help of “the Weekly” faculty advisors, Kate Tabor and Eric Rampson, we make a decision about whether it is appropriate to include, and if not, what needs to be done to make it appropriate.

“The Weekly” is extremely grateful for the freedom from censorship it currently enjoys, but that freedom is built on the generosity and reasonability of current administrators and the extent of this freedom is quite vague. We want to formalize our freedom and ensure that prior review and prior restraint are not instated by administrators. When it has been instituted in the past, it has been disastrous.

One of the many things “The Parker Weekly” is trying to do to ensure we remain uncensored is adding language from the Illinois New Voices Law to the Parker Handbook. The New Voices Laws are the gold standard of press freedom in schools. If the language is adopted by the school, the administration cannot reinstate prior review or restraint unless “the Weekly” publishes an article that is wanton or willfully libelous, slanderous, or obscene; constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; violates federal or State law; or incites students to commit an unlawful act, to violate policies of the school, or to materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school. These are responsibilities “the Weekly” is committed to upholding. The fully adapted New Voice Law is printed below and we have reached out to administrators to discuss the possibility of having this in the handbook.

Operating without full autonomy or freedom in the past has suppressed many important articles about race, substance use, sexism, and many more which could have effected real change at the school. Each and every one of these articles would have been important. Without these articles, a hollow imitation of a newspaper is created that is unable to report on important problems, and unable to inspire or demand real change in the school. 

We are told that Parker is an embryonic democracy, a place where social justice and student activism are prized. We want the policy of our school in relation to student press freedom to be sustainably consistent with those values. It is essential for the sake of “the Weekly” and the sake of Francis Parker as an institution to continue opposing censorship in student journalism. At the very least it should adopt the language of the New Voices Law bringing Parker to the same standards as Illinois public schools. Censorship of the news shouldn’t exist for the protection of student journalism. It is critical that “the Weekly” remains an outlet for open expression and truth. A student journalist can best learn when provided open opportunities to investigate relevant stories and report with truth and accuracy. “The Weekly” works to overcome journalistic barriers and build a resilient staff of writers. A free exchange of ideas connects community members, and creates an environment where students can feel comfortable, open minded, and curious. 


The Adapted New Voices Law: 

Student journalists at Francis W Parker have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media, regardless of whether the media is supported financially by the school or by use of school facilities or produced in conjunction with a class in which the student is enrolled. The student journalist is responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media. There shall be no prior restraint of material prepared for official school publications except when it:   

  1. is libelous, slanderous, or obscene;
  2. constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
  3. violates federal or State law; or incites students to commit an unlawful act, to violate policies of the school, or to materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school.

School officials shall have the burden of showing justification without undue delay prior to a limitation of student expression. No expression made by students in the exercise of freedom of speech or freedom of the press shall be deemed to be an expression of school policy (a disclaimer will be added to all publications that the administration is in no way responsible for the content being put out), and no administrator or employee or parent, legal guardian, or faculty advisor to a publication shall be held liable in any civil or criminal action for any expression made or published by students, except in cases of willful or wanton misconduct.