By Dan Simmons
Chicago Tribune | November 20, 2009
Administrators at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire spiked Friday’s edition of the school’s award-winning newspaper because of concerns about stories on drinking and smoking by honor students, teen pregnancy, and shoplifting, the editor said.
Advocates of press freedom bashed the decision to halt publication.
“It is irresponsible to withhold this information so they can protect their fantasy image of Stevenson as a place where no one has ever gotten pregnant or shoplifted,” said Frank LoMante, executive director of the Virginia-based Student Press Law Center.
The paper’s faculty advisers, Matt Lockowitz and Lisa Lukens, as well as the school’s spokesman, Jim Conrey, did not return phone messages Thursday.
The ban is the latest rift between administrators and student journalists for the Statesman, regarded as one of the premier student newspapers in Illinois and the nation. Concerns about content last year led to the resignation of the paper’s faculty adviser, Barbara Thill.
In the most recent incident, administrators on the paper’s review board warned editor Pam Selman, a senior, not to submit a front-page story by senior managing editor Evan Ribot about students in the National Honor Society and freshmen mentors program.
In it, two students, quoted anonymously, admitted to drinking and smoking, which are prohibited under the society’s no-use contract.
The administrators warned that they would ask for the students’ names and potentially take disciplinary action against them, Selman said.
Rather than revealing their sources, the paper’s staff decided to submit a blank front page to the board on Tuesday, she said, with a note to readers about why the story wasn’t there.
On Wednesday, the paper’s advisers told staff the administrative review board had problems with the blank front page — plus the pregnancy and shoplifting stories — and would spike the issue. Administrators said the teen pregnancy story lacked balance, Selman said.
The story by Selman quoted a boy and girl at the school who are expecting a child together, she said. The school has seen an increase in student pregnancies this year, Selman said.
LoMante is advising the paper on its legal options and was given copies of all three stories the administration deemed unfit for print.
“They are balanced, responsible and mild,” he said. “They carry positive messages: Don’t shoplift, and get counseling if you get pregnant.”
The paper’s staffers on Friday will greet students by the entrances, as they usually do when the paper comes out every third or fourth week, Ribot said.
But instead of saying “Take a Statesman,” they will be saying, “Sorry, no paper today” and explaining why.