Editorial | Charger staff responds to administrative review policy

As the school year begins, the Charger staff is excited to resume its work covering the stories and opinions of WHS students. 

But before we start, we’d like to make our goals for the year clear and address some issues we face as student journalists. 

First of all, our mission statement: 

“The mission of the Charger newspaper and related media is to inform the students and school community about relevant issues in a fair, accurate and timely manner, to advocate for all students and serve as an open forum for student free speech.”

That’s probably a broader mission than some people have in mind for a student publication. We’ve encountered readers who believe our publication should only highlight the good things happening at Wabaunsee High School. While that’s part of our goal, the Charger’s goal is journalism, not public relations. Stories that affect students, staff, and the school community deserve our attention — whether on or off of school grounds. 

The Charger operates under the guidelines of the Kansas Student Publications Act, meaning students produce the content and make editorial decisions. That freedom comes with a lot of responsibility, but that’s what makes the Charger valuable as an educational tool. We get real experience making real journalism that affects our community. 

At the beginning of the school year, administrators presented an action plan to adviser Brendan Praeger that affects the Charger. Here are the relevant pieces of the plan:

“All written publications must be submitted to administration at least two school days prior to publication and must be appropriate for secondary school readership.”

“Communicate regularly with administration regarding all stories at least 2 school days prior to publication and/or broadcast. This would include proposed outlines of topics and questioning/guests/hosts planned for the podcast.

Absolutely no school publications, newspaper issues or school broadcasts may happen outside the student’s regular school year (August 17, 2021 – May 18, 2022).”

Even though we don’t like it, we recognize that nothing in these guidelines is illegal. The Kansas Student Publications Act allows schools to review publications, although there are strict guidelines when it comes to restraining student speech. The act also gives schools the right to dictate the window for publication. 

Here are relevant passages from that law: 

“The liberty of the press in student publications shall be protected. School employees may regulate the number, length, frequency, distribution and format of student publications. Material shall not be suppressed solely because it involves political or controversial subject matter.”

“Review of material prepared for student publications and encouragement of the expression of such material in a manner that is consistent with high standards of English and journalism shall not be deemed to be or construed as a restraint on publication of the material or an abridgment of the right to freedom of expression in student publications.”

So, while it’s all legal, it still makes us uneasy. 

Limiting our publication dates means we can’t cover things that happen outside of the school year, but life for high school students doesn’t stop in mid-May. State competitions, board meetings and staff changes all happen during the summer, as well as all the interesting things our students do. School clubs and activities aren’t forced to shut down when school ends — in addition to our packed weight room, you can ask FCCLA and KAY students, among many others, whether they stop when the last bell rings. 

We’re concerned that the two-day review period may make it difficult to cover some things in a timely manner, especially with our Tuesday morning deadline to publish the paper in the Wabaunsee Signal-Enterprise. For instance, school board meetings happen on Monday evenings, does that mean we can’t cover them for a week?

Our administrators have communicated to our adviser that they intend to be reasonable for stories that require flexibility, and if that’s the case, we’ll work to continue creating good journalism under the new guidelines. 

In a letter of support sent to school administrators earlier this month, Kansas Scholastic Press Association director Eric Thomas wrote “Public school employees — including superintendents, principals and teachers — are agents of the government. While it is an educator’s job to encourage responsible and thoughtful journalism, the law makes clear that it is not the government’s job to censor its students’ lawful speech. The Kansas law is an important part of upholding the students’ rights.”

While the action plan does make it clear that our work “must be appropriate for secondary school readership,” it does not indicate that the intent of reviewing our stories is to censor or restrain our content. If that changes, we intend to use whatever tools we have to advocate for our freedom of press. 

With that said, the Charger is intended to represent all students, not just our small staff, so we invite students, staff and community members to interact with our coverage as much as possible. Letters to the editor, story ideas, guest writers and feedback on our work — both positive and constructive — is always welcome.

You can find our paper every week in the Signal-Enterprise, with additional coverage on our website, whscharger.com. Our podcast, Senioritis, is available through our website and other podcast services. 

We post links to stories, photos and breaking news to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, all under whscharger. 

The editorial is the opinion of the Charger staff. Send letters to the editor to whscharger@gmail.com.

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