School paper sparks free speech debate

FOND DU LAC – An article in the Fond du lac High School newspaper’s February issue has spurred a debate over free speech.

It is called “The Rape Joke.” It quotes anonymous interviews with sexual assault victims as a way to highlight the damage jokes about rape can do.

The article was one of the reasons behind a school district policy change when it comes to what gets published. Any article published in the paper, the Cardinal Columns, will now need the approval of the high school principal.

Censorship or editorial control? The district says this is well within its rights, but some who showed up at Monday’s school board meeting, disagree.

Cardinal Columns graphic designer Austin Klewicki was the one student who spoke to the school board Monday. He asked members to revoke the new policy regarding the school paper.

“Asking it be reversed, because we bring out the truth and we try to help everyone that’s affected by it,” said Klewicki.

Cardinal Columns editor-in-chief Tanvi Kumar wrote “The Rape Joke” for the February issue.

District Superintendent James Sebert told us he doesn’t have a problem with the article as a whole, but questions parts.

“A picture inside the first cover that looks as if one of our students isn’t fully clothed. I had issues with some of the verbiage that was used to describe sexual assaults,” said Sebert.

The superintendent also took issue with an editorial in the February edition challenging the “Pledge of Allegiance.”

“It was actually encouraging students to test their teachers’ knowledge of their rights and encouraging them not to stand,” Sebert explained.

Sebert told FOX 11 these reasons led to the policy change. Now the high school principal has the final say on what will be published.

“We’ve now set up, what I believe, the help of our legal counsel, to be very reasonable expectations for a publication that’s produced during the school day, with school resources,” said Sebert.

FOX 11 did a fact check and found a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case called Hazelwood vs. Kulhmeier. The court ruled a school district has a right to limit what’s published in an official school publication.

However, several adult community members and professional journalists spoke out against the Fond du Lac district’s new policy Monday.

“If our children cannot provoke thoughtful discussion, encourage that discussion, create public concern, action among teenage peers and parents through the school paper, then where?” asked Sandy Jacoby, president of the Kettle Moraine Press Association and Wisconsin State Director of the Journalism Education Association.

Klewicki argued the district’s move is a slippery slope.

“They won’t be able to write what they want if this policy is continued, or even made stricter,” said the student.

The author of the article, “The Rape Joke” did not comment at the meeting. She also declined an interview with FOX 11.

An online petition urging the school district to rethink its new policy had gotten more than 5,000 signatures as of Monday. Sixteen district teachers also signed a statement asking the same.

The issue was not on Monday’s school board agenda, so the board did not take any action.

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