UPDATE 3:15 p.m.
SPRINGDALE — The School District has agreed to allow articles that had been removed from the Har-Ber High School newspaper's website to be reposted, according to a statement the district issued today by communications director Rick Schaeffer.
"After continued consideration of the legal landscape, the Springdale School District has concluded that the Har-Ber Herald articles may be reposted," Schaeffer wrote. "This matter is complex, challenging and has merited thorough review. The social and emotional well-being of all students has been and continues to be a priority of the district."
That is all the district has to say about the matter, Schaeffer wrote.
SPRINGDALE -- The status of Har-Ber High School's student newspaper was unclear Monday after reports over the weekend that publication was suspended.
A Springdale School District spokesman said Monday he couldn't confirm or deny claims last week by an online reporting site that administrators suspended publication because of an article on the transfer of several Har-Ber football players to Springdale High School.
"This issue is under a thorough ongoing review process," said Rick Schaeffer, the district's director of communications. "There's personnel involved. There's a lot involved in this. It's much larger than one publication."
Schaeffer declined further comment.
Buzzfeed News published an article Saturday claiming the district suspended the Har-Ber Herald and threatened to fire the teacher who advises it after the Herald published "Athletes' transfers in question" in its Oct. 30 issue.
The Herald's article does not appear on its website, although other articles from the same issue do.
Karla Sprague, the newspaper's adviser, did not respond to an email. Halle Roberts, editor-in-chief of the student paper, did not respond to a text message and a voicemail Monday seeking comment.
The Herald's article is about six Har-Ber students, all football players, who decided to transfer to rival Springdale High School last year. The district and the Arkansas Activities Association approved the transfers, most of which were requested based on a desire to be in a particular academic program at Springdale High not offered at Har-Ber High, according to the Herald's report.
The Herald's article, however, quoted two of those students who implied football played at least a part in their decisions to transfer. One student said he could "showcase my talent more" at Springdale High, according to the Herald's story.
"Specific curriculum or instructional opportunities" is listed as one of several acceptable reasons for students to seek transfers to another school within Springdale, according to district policy. Athletic or extracurricular opportunities are not listed.
The Herald's article also reports on a Dec. 2, 2017, video taken by the father of one of the transfer students. The video shows the man drinking beer, burning Har-Ber gear in a fire pit and insulting Har-Ber head coach Chris Wood. Springdale head football coach Zak Clark is also present in the video, according to the Herald's article.
The Herald also published an unsigned editorial on the topic, titled "Hear us roar," that criticized the players involved and suggested the district and the Arkansas Activities Association revisit their policies on transfers.
The Herald is written and designed by Har-Ber High School's journalism class.
Justin Turner, a Sheridan High School journalism teacher and director of the Arkansas Journalism Education Association, said that if the Buzzfeed report is accurate, the district is not following the law.
A state law passed in 1995 provided student journalists an extra layer of protection beyond what the First Amendment offers. The law states each school board shall adopt a student publication policy that includes the recognition that "students may exercise their right of expression" in school-sponsored publications, regardless of whether those publications are supported financially by the school or by use of school facilities, or are produced by a class.
The law sets out specific reasons a school may censor a student publication: if the material is obscene to minors, if it is libelous or slanderous, if it constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy, or if it creates a "clear and present danger" of the commission of crimes on campus or disruption of the school's operation.
"A story about a football team and players switching schools does not fit any of those categories," Turner said.
Beyond that, schools should be teaching students to respect the First Amendment, he said.
"And for a school to censor students for exercising those rights is not only illegal, but it goes against the mission of the school," Turner said. "I know it's incredibly tough as a teacher to teach kids about their rights and then be told by the district to go against what you're teaching."
Ashley Wimberley, director of the Arkansas Press Association, said the association feels the district's reaction to the Herald's article was wrong. If the article was inaccurate in any way, there are other ways to go about addressing that, she said.
"We do feel strongly censoring and shutting down a paper is not the answer," Wimberley said.
Metro on 12/04/2018
Print Headline: Arkansas school district silent on report of student newspaper's suspension