Arkansas SPJ stands in solidarity with student newspaper silenced by administration

Arkansas Pro Chapter

Society of Professional Journalists

 

For immediate release:

On Oct. 30, The Herald of Har-Ber High School in Springdale published “Athlete transfers in question,” a painstaking investigation of football players’ transfers to a rival high school.

In response to the dedicated work of these student journalists, school officials demanded the story be removed from The Herald‘s website, suspended the paper’s publication and threatened to terminate adviser Karla Sprague. School principal Paul Griep had asked Sprague to provide him with a copy of the article prior to publication, and in keeping with journalistic practices, she refused.

We, the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, stand in solidarity with The Herald‘s students and adviser, who were exercising their First Amendment rights and journalistic responsibility to cover a topic of utmost importance to their school and district, and we condemn the censorship of the article.

The district has since allowed the article to be republished online following “continued consideration of the legal landscape,” according to a statement released by the district Dec. 4.

The Arkansas Student Publications Act provides guidelines for student publication policies; protects free expression of school-sponsored student publication; recognizes the journalistic values of truth, fairness, accuracy and responsibility; and provides exemptions in cases of obscenity, libel, invasion of privacy, and clear and present danger.

While Arkansas is fortunate to have the existing law, we believe this instance of censorship highlights the need for stronger protections for student journalists. We support the work of New Voices U.S.A. to fill in the gaps of the Arkansas Student Publications Act, including explicit protection for advisers who follow the law, protection for collegiate journalists, and explicit release of liability for schools that follow the law.

In addition, we appreciate the Student Press Law Center’s commitment to defending The Herald and other student publications.

As observed nearly 50 years ago in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” We proudly support student journalists across the state, and invite student papers to contact us if we can be of service.

In solidarity,

The Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

Jennifer Ellis, president

jellis@arkansasonline.com, 501-533-0565

Sarah DeClerk, vice president

sdeclerk@arkansasonline.com, 501-378-3527

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