The top brass of an Illinois high school did not waste any time pulling the plug on its student newspaper last month after seeing that its young editorial department had taken it upon themselves to run a two-page feature on the weight of modern day marijuana policy.
The Student Newspaper
A report from the folks at the Evanston Patch indicates that administrators at Evanston Township High School (ETHS), which is located in a northern suburb of Chicago, removed the high school newspaper from circulation, because they felt the focus of the student’s marijuana coverage only served to “glorify both drug use and drug dealing,” while promoting conduct of an illegal nature.
But administrators failed to justify their actions before killing the stories, a violation of Illinois law, according to the paper’s editorial team.
“Marijuana is a part of student culture here, and we decided to take advantage of our free speech as a part of the Evanston community. We decided to use our student platform to professionally report on a relevant topic,” Margo Levitan, executive editor of the Evanstonian Online, said during a recent school board meeting concerning the issue. “We are not promoting marijuana usage… we hope that Evanston’s message of free speech would apply to student voices as well, even if the subject is considered taboo.”
The Pot Thickens
The censored coverage entitled ‘The Pot Thickens’ includes articles about the legislative crevasses of the marijuana movement in the Land of Lincoln, as well as stories about medical marijuana and the recreational use of the herb among the student population.
The coverage extended into the realm of prohibitionary times by interviewing an anonymous drug dealer in an attempt to show the dangers of the black market.
“I want to make it clear that our purpose in printing these stories was to try to discover why so many students smoked or used marijuana. Our purpose was not to promote usage or encourage any students or to condone illegal activity,” said news editor Trinity Collins.
But District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon says the newspaper’s pot-related articles “promote illegal conduct that also violates school policy.”
“The U.S. Constitution and the Illinois Speech Right of Student Journalists Act both provide student journalists with certain rights to speech that ETHS celebrates… those rights are limited,” he said. “When student journalism incites unlawful acts, violation of school policy, or disrupts the school, the administration has the authority to impose limits. The articles on September 22, 2017 did cross these lines and were removed from circulation for that reason.”
Free Speech For Students
But this verdict is not setting well with members of the newspaper’s editorial team.
Michael Colton, one of the paper’s executive editors, argues that the seizure of the publication is, in fact, a violation of the Illinois Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act because none of the articles were written to incite unlawful acts.
“All stories printed were of student voice, we surveyed students, we got their opinions on the matter, there were no editorials inviting students to use marijuana to romanticizing the use of marijuana in any way,” Colton said.
Even legal experts, like Maryam Judar, executive director of the Community Lawyer Citizen Advocacy Center, say the school was in the wrong for confiscating the student paper.
“The school must be able to show that its action was caused by something more than just a mere desire to avoid discomfort or unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint or a controversial topics,” she said, adding that eliminating the papers from circulation just to avoid controversy was simply not a good enough reason.
The newspaper’s editorial team is now asking for permission to republish the September issue, if they include additional pieces regarding the dangers of marijuana consumption.
The matter is scheduled to be discussed in a public forum at the beginning of next week.
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