Vail Daily letter: Let students publish
Society of Professional Journalists/Colorado Pro Chapter
Dear Superintendent Chesley and members of the Cherry Creek School Board:
We are writing to express deep concern over the events at Overland High School involving the Scout student newspaper and Principal Leon Lundie. Specifically, we are alarmed by Lundie’s actions following the Scout’s efforts to publish an article about a classmate’s death.
The student journalists held a press conference last week to air their perspectives on what transpired. District administrators subsequently provided conflicting explanations of the situation.
What appears clear: Lundie installed a prior restraint policy this year, requiring students to submit their stories to him for approval before publication. He did not approve the story in this case, claiming it contained a factual error. When the students verified the fact in question, Lundie told them he was canceling the newspaper. In addition, the Scout’s adviser of 14 years was removed from her post.
The Cherry Creek School District’s spokeswoman subsequently claimed the decision, made in mid-semester, was necessitated by “budget concerns.” She also indicated Lundie is considering moving the newspaper online rather than a continued print product. The student journalists report they had not been notified of this change.
As the elected board of the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, we are compelled to weigh in.
The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s oldest and largest organization of journalists, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and high standards of ethical behavior, and protecting our First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press. The organization works to promote the free flow of information that is vital to our democracy and a well-informed citizenry, and is committed to educating current and future journalists.
As you may know, Colorado is one of seven states with a student free expression law that guarantees student journalists the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press. Specific provisions exist that allow for prior restraint by school administrators, including if a story is obscene, false or libelous. None of these conditions appear to be involved in the Scout case.
In their press conference last week and in subsequent interviews, the students indicated that two or three more Scout editions had been scheduled for publication before the end of the school year.
It is our board’s position that the news article in question be published in the Scout and that the students be allowed to publish all planned upcoming issues of their newspaper. We also support the immediate reinstatement of the newspaper adviser, and the halting of Lundie’s practice of prior publication review of all Scout stories.
We are also requesting a copy of Cherry Creek School District’s written publications code, and the date it was distributed during the 2010-11 school year. As outlined in Colorado’s student free expression law, school districts are required to distribute the code to students and teachers at the beginning of each school year.
Finally, if Lundie is indeed considering making the Scout an online-only venture after the current school year, SPJ Colorado board members would be happy to work with him and other district personnel to ensure the highest standards of journalism continue to be emphasized at Overland High School.
Thank you for your attention and for your continued commitment to the students of Cherry Creek School District.