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An Arkansas High School Newspaper’s Stories On High School Football Have Been Uncensored

“The nature of how they buckled under the pressure of the press is very crass.”

Posted on December 6, 2018, at 10:30 a.m. ET

Har-Ber Herald

The Arkansas school district that censored high school newspaper the Har-Ber Herald after it investigated the transfer of varsity football players has allowed the banned articles to be republished after public outcry.

BuzzFeed News revealed Saturday that the Springdale school district had suspended the school newspaper after it wrote about five football players who transferred from Har-Ber High School to its rival Springdale High School, which is in the same school district.

On Wednesday, Har-Ber Principal Paul Griep told the Herald the two stories would be republished.

“After continued consideration of the legal landscape, the Springdale School District has concluded that the Har-Ber Herald articles may be reposted,” read a statement from district officials shared by the principal with the student newspaper.

“This matter is complex, challenging, and has merited thorough review. The social and emotional well-being of all students has been and continues to be a priority of the district,” the officials said.

The articles — an investigation titled “Athletes’ transfers in question” and an editorial titled “Hear us roar” — were posted on the Herald’s site on Wednesday. The newly republished investigation is an edited version of the original and includes some clarifications.

Jack Williams, one of the student journalists who wrote the investigation, along with Molly Hendren and Matteo Campagnola, told BuzzFeed News that the district’s response had been disappointing.

“I am very grateful for the district’s verdict on establishing that we have the right to republish the article but they continue to hold prior review over our heads and that is disappointing to say the least,” said Williams, 17.

“The nature of how they buckled under the pressure of the press is very crass,” he added.

The Har-Ber Herald

After BuzzFeed News first wrote about the school district’s censorship, both local and national outlets picked up the story, including an editorial in the Chicago Tribune in support of the student journalists.

Arkansas is one of 14 states that have specific laws supporting student journalists.

On Nov. 27, Principal Griep announced the newspaper was suspended from publishing while the school district wrote new protocols for student publications.

The newspaper’s teacher adviser, Karla Sprague, was threatened with possible termination if the students published anything without prior approval from the school.

Through her lawyer, Sprague told Buzzfeed News she was proud of her students.

“I’m very proud of the students for standing up for their rights to have the article and editorial published,” she said.

Although the controversial articles have now been republished, it’s unclear if the school district continues to suspend the newspaper from publishing further stories.

“They kind of haven’t addressed the dissonance between letting us republish this and the prior memo to restrain from publishing anything while the district talks about policy are underway, unless our adviser loses her job,” noted Williams.

Neither the Springdale school district nor the principal of Har-Ber High School have returned BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.

George McManus, a lawyer that has been advising the families of the five football players, said he was frustrated at the school district’s decision to allow the articles to be republished.

“I think they basically did a risk assessment and said the mental well-being of the children on my side and their ability to be [free] from libelous reporting is less important than the right to write it. Just no great recourse to fight this for the victims of these attacks,” McManus told BuzzFeed News.

The Student Press Law Center wrote a letter to Springdale school district Superintendent Jim Rollins on Wednesday, calling the republishing of the articles “neither sufficient nor complete.”

The SPLC letter, signed by 27 organizations and individuals including the National Scholastic Press Association and PEN America, noted that demanding prior review of articles goes against Arkansas state laws protecting student journalists.

“We urge you to allow your students to use the newspaper as it is meant to be used: as a vehicle for young people to engage on issues of civic, social and political concern. If the school district wants a public relations newsletter it should start its own and leave the student newspaper alone,” it reads.

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