FOND DU LAC, Wis. (AP) – A new policy at Fond du Lac High School that allows administrators to oversee student publications is drawing criticism and sparking a free speech debate – and several English teachers are asking the school district to rethink the rules.
Journalism students at “Cardinal Columns,” a student magazine, were told this month that the district was implementing a policy that would allow the principal to oversee all student publications and refuse to publish certain items.
The move came after the student magazine published a story in February called “The Rape Joke,” according to the Fond du Lac Reporter Media. The story, by senior Tanvi Kumar, investigated the prevalence of rape jokes and rape culture at the school and included anonymous stories from victims.
School Superintendent James Sebert and high school Principal Jon Wiltzius raised concerns about the content, including the possibility that the subject matter might be inappropriate for immature audiences and that the photos might be too suggestive or edgy.
Sixteen members of the English Department have signed and presented a 22-page statement supporting the students. It reads: “Such guidelines are not only a clear path toward censorship of student expression but also drastically alter the relationship between school publications and the administration and break sharply with roughly 100 years of district precedent regarding such publication.”
The teachers urge the superintendent and school board to either abandon the guidelines or put them on hold “until new guidelines or a new policy may be drafted in collaboration with the students, community and experts in the field.”
The statement also says the story “stands as an exemplar of high-quality, responsible journalism that has helped countless readers feel supported, speak up, seek help and come together in a way that has undoubtedly resulted in a more positive environment in our school.”
An anti-censorship petition that calls for reversal of the mandate is also getting traction online at change.org. It had almost 5,300 signatures in support of the Cardinal Columns staff on Friday.
In response to questions from The Reporter Media, Sebert said in a statement: “I believe that the guidelines are a reasonable expectation for a school-sponsored publication. The district has a responsibility to protect the educational process, environment and the interests of all students.”
School Board Vice President Susan Jones said believes in free speech as long as it isn’t offensive and she believes the issue should be revisited.
“This is what democracy is all about, this is America and these kids are pretty mature. It’s a big issue in the high school and we should all be concerned about what is going on,” Jones said.
The students plan to attend Monday’s school board meeting to press the issue.