Nearly a month after a fight between students and administrators over stories planned for the Stevenson High School newspaper erupted publicly, the school board on Thursday announced plans to give the young journalists clear expectations for their work.
Administrators, journalism teachers and students will begin working on procedures and guidelines within the next month, District 125 board President Bruce Lubin said during the panel's monthly meeting at the Lincolnshire campus.
The small meeting room was packed with more than 40 visitors, most of whom wanted to talk about the battle over the Statesman or hear board members address the controversy for the first time since publication of the November issue was delayed several days - and two stories pulled - because of content concerns.
The visitors learned, too, that a story was pulled out of the December issue.
"We, too, value and respect the First Amendment and hope to instill and encourage in our student journalists a passion for reporting and writing," Lubin said, reading from a statement handed to the media before the start of the meeting. "However, we part company with those who insist school district leaders should allow school-sponsored student newspapers to be published free of and unrestricted by administrative review."
Lubin then revealed administrative objections to a story planned for the December issue of the Statesman, due to be released today. Where the November issue's stories were held because of the use of anonymous sources and worries about factual reporting, the December issue's story - about the use and effects of prescription drugs - was held because it included private medical information about students identified in the piece.
The decision drew criticism from audience members, as did the battle over the two November articles. Statesman Editor in Chief Pam Selman said her staffers feel "crushed" and "bullied."
"The staff feels that our rights, though certainly minimal, have been violated," Selman said. "Censorship holds no place in an educational society. It's bad teaching and it's bad journalism."
Statesman Managing Editor Evan Ribot also addressed the issue. He said students have repeatedly made requests for specific rules, and those requests haven't been met.
The students' desire to meet on common ground with administrators has been met with "hypocrisy, deceit and double talk," Ribot said.
Several other visitors rose to defend the students, including former Statesman staffers and the high school journalism advisers from Huntley and Prospect high schools. Both instructors praised the Statesman's award-winning reputation and decried the current situation.
"You have precluded them from writing certain stories," said Dennis Brown, the Huntley adviser. "I hate to see this happen to this program."
Jason Block, the Prospect High adviser, said the administration's efforts to restrict what the Statesman publishes send conflicting messages to students who, as sophomores, read books such as "Fahrenheit 451" and "Animal Farm" that celebrate independent thought.
Lubin was the only school board member to address the controversy. Although in attendance, neither Superintendent Eric Twadell nor Principal Janet Gonzalez spoke about the matter.
When the audience members were done speaking, Lubin said the board would consider the comments.
"There's obviously a lot for us to discuss," he said.
Officials then moved on to other business.
Stevenson: Board to consider public's comments