Censorship lesson


Lauren MacLean, a senior at Churchill County High School in Fallon, wrote an article for her school newspaper, "The Flash," detailing the complaints of parents who contend a music teacher there, Kathy Archey, withheld some student audition tapes from a prestigious state competition for aspiring musicians.

Some parents said their children were, understandably, quite upset to learn their tapes had not been submitted.

Ms. MacLean said she worked with her principal, Kevin Lords, and an adviser at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno to ensure her article was reasonable for a school newspaper.

"I wrote the article in a way that it wasn't attacking Kathy Archey. ... It was really hard," she told the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard. "There was so much on the line, people's jobs, people's reputations."

The teachers union got into the act. Since such unions identify their members as "educators," their main concern was surely to "educate" all concerned about Ms. MacLean's First Amendment right to publish, even if it hurt the feelings of one of their members. Right?

Well, no. In a grievance filed with Mr. Lords and school district Superintendent Carolyn Ross, the union claimed the article would harm the teacher's employment and could deprive her "of any professional advantage without just cause."

Fortunately, Mr. Lords and Ms. Ross decided there was a more important issue at stake. Refusing to bow to union pressure, they authorized the article to appear today.

"When we cut freedom of speech, we'd better be very careful on what we're censoring," said Mr. Lords.

"I believe the greater risk is to suppress information from the public that they have a right to know," said Ms. Ross.

Jerry Ceppos, dean of the journalism school at the University of Nevada, Reno, said what the union sought to do would have constituted prior restraint.

"I am so troubled that a teachers group would try to block the publication of a news story," he said. "This is contrary to what teachers should be teaching. I don't understand it. They ought to be teaching rights and responsibilities of the First Amendment."

Ms. MacLean said the action of the teachers' union surprised her, as well. "It shows me they're more interested in protecting a teacher's reputation and keeping their jobs than teaching the students," she said.

Well, well. It seems there's a whole lot of learning going on, up Fallon way.

The music teacher and her union deserve their say, of course. Here's hoping the student newspaper gave them a chance to respond, and will do so again. Student journalists are not as free in a district-funded publication as they would be "on the outside," of course. In Nevada, a principal has the authority to decide whether an article will run in such a school publication, unless the school board or superintendent say otherwise.

But in the little town of Fallon, a welcome spark of freedom now shines. Taking the more courageous and principled course, Mr. Lords and Ms. Ross -- and young Lauren MacLean -- did well.

 

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