Just minutes after the student newspaper was distributed at Smith Middle School yesterday, the papers were recalled by the assistant principal. No explanation given at the time. The students went on break, which will last just over a week, with no idea of which articles might be offensive to their adminstrators.
This morning, parents who too were curious could read a sorta explanation in the News and Observer and in the Daily Tar Heel.
Although the paper, according to advisor — and my collegue — Chris Roush, has a record of getting proper permissions from students and parents of subjects of stories (in conversation and in a comment on Eric Muller’s IsThatLegal blog), the principal (speaking in part for the assistant who seized the papers) said:

“I’m not trying to assume that it was gathered inappropriately, I just don’t know that students knew that they were being quoted for the paper,” she [Principal Reinhardt] said.

Reinhardt added that she also was concerned that the parents of the students in the articles might not have been aware of the stories. (source Daily Tar Heel – see link above)

Chris tells me (and the press in both stories and on IsThatLegal) that the Student Press Law Center and the North Carolina Scholastic Media Association have been notified and that they support the student paper and feel that all ethical and legal steps were properly taken.

Where are we now? The Tar Heel reports:

Stephanie Knott, assistant to the superintendent for community relations, said parents of the students involved will be notified, and the district will contact the Student Press Law Center in Virginia for advice.

Mark Goodman, executive director of the center, said he’s eager to help address the issue.

“We’re here to find a way to ensure that the student message gets out, but everyone stays on the right side of the law, and we’d certainly be happy to help them do that,” he said.

In the meantime the students’ lesson in civics is not really about protecting student confidentiality nor even about the Hazelwood decision. In the absense of an explanation for the ceasure, the lesson is about nothing more than the unexplained and seemingly arbitrary exercise of power over the press. Was the paper ceased because of a detailed compliant about the school’s internet filters or about one of the sports stories or another feature?

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