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Arkansas high school newspaper’s website restores banned articles

by Dave Perozek | December 5, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
A copy of the Har-Ber Herald edition that has a controversial story on student transfers within the district.

SPRINGDALE -- The Springdale School District said Tuesday that it is allowing articles it yanked from the Har-Ber High School newspaper's website to be reposted.

The articles, a news story and an editorial concerning the transfers of six Har-Ber football players last year to Springdale High School appeared in the Oct. 30 print edition of the Har-Ber Herald.

The decision to allow the articles online followed "continued consideration of the legal landscape," according to a statement the district released Tuesday afternoon.

"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," according to the statement.

Rick Schaeffer, director of communications, said the district would have no further comment.

Karla Sprague, a Har-Ber teacher and the newspaper's adviser, was ordered Nov. 2 to take both articles down from the Herald's website, according to her attorney, Brian Wood.

Sprague issued a statement through Wood, saying, "I'm proud of my kids for standing up for their rights. We've got work to do."

Sprague was reprimanded -- but not suspended -- for refusing to allow Principal Paul Griep to review the article or the rest of the content before it was published, Wood said.

Sprague is president of the Arkansas Scholastic Press Association and has been newspaper adviser for 13 years. She always has followed a policy of not allowing administrators to preview articles before they're published, Wood said.

"Somehow that's insubordination when you're asked to do something that violates the rules," Wood said.

The Springdale School Board's policy on student publications and broadcasts reflects a 1995 state law that provides student journalists an extra layer of protection beyond what the First Amendment offers. The policy states students may exercise their right of expression within school-sponsored publications, regardless of whether the district supports that publication financially or in any other way.

Exceptions include publications that are obscene to minors, are libelous or slanderous, constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy, or are deemed likely to "incite" students to commit crimes or disrupt operation of the school.

The Herald hasn't published a paper since its Oct. 30 edition.

Administrators told Sprague that her staff is allowed to publish again but that administrators must be allowed to preview the material in advance, Wood said.

Asked whether he and Sprague would fight such a rule, Wood said: "We'll see. I don't know."

The news story is about the athletes whose transfers were approved based on their stated desire to be in an academic program at Springdale High not offered at Har-Ber High.

The article quoted two of the six 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 present in the video, according to the Herald's article.

The Herald's unsigned editorial on the topic, titled "Hear us roar," criticized the players involved and suggested the district and the Arkansas Activities Association revisit their policies on transfers.

The district's removal of the two articles online drew criticism from numerous advocates for student journalism, including the directors of the Arkansas Press Association and the Arkansas Journalism Education Association.

The University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media and the Society of Professional Journalists' Northwest Arkansas chapter also weighed in with a joint statement urging the district to allow the articles to be reposted.

"We believe the public should be allowed to read the article to assess its merits," according to the statement.

Metro on 12/05/2018

Print Headline: Arkansas high school newspaper’s website restores banned articles

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