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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Halle Roberts (second from left), editor-in-chief of the Har-Ber Herald, the student newspaper at Har-Ber High School, speaks Tuesday to the Springdale School Board alongside members of the Herald staff and the school's yearbook staff during a public comment portion of the board's meeting in Springdale.

SPRINGDALE — Students representing Har-Ber High School's newspaper and yearbook on Tuesday criticized administrative involvement in what they publish.

Tuesday's School Board meeting was the first since news broke this month that the School District ordered two articles removed from the website of the Har-Ber Herald newspaper.

The district announced Dec. 4 it would allow both pieces — a news article and an editorial concerning the transfers of several football players from Har-Ber to Springdale High School last year — to be reposted.

Madelyn Stout, editor of the yearbook, and Halle Roberts, editor of the Herald, addressed the board with their concerns the district will institute a policy whereby all future publications must be reviewed by an administrator prior to publication.

Roberts was adamant she and the Herald staff stand by their reporting about the student transfers.

"Nobody said journalism was going to be easy, and we're learning that at a very young age," Roberts said. "So honestly, I thank you for giving us this experience because we have been taught there's always going to be someone saying, 'This is wrong, you're wrong, be quiet,' when we know that we are right and we have learned to go at this in a professional light."

Having to submit to administrators' review would make their work more difficult because the student journalists will have to meet a stricter deadline to get their work approved, she said.

"But also, it takes away our learning experiences for our careers, because we're not going to have to do this in the real world," Roberts said. "There's not going to be someone standing over us saying, 'Well, that might hurt someone's feelings, we can't put that in the press.'"

Brian Wood, an attorney representing teacher Karla Sprague, who serves as staff adviser to the Herald, has said there's never been a practice of prior review for Har-Ber High School publications. Sprague received a reprimand for not obeying a request to show Har-Ber's principal the Oct. 30 edition of the Herald before it went to print, according to Wood.

The two articles were removed from the Herald's website Nov. 2.

Stout said administrators may have tried to suppress the Herald's story, but "in doing this, you went from being the protector of the journalists at Har-Ber to our bully and to our censor."

Prior review jeopardizes the students' journalistic integrity and isn't how it works in the real world, Stout said. She added the yearbook also will face added pressure because of stricter deadlines if prior review is enacted.

"It's frustrating the administration clearly can't grasp how much work and tears me and my staff have put into this book so far, and now we feel as if they have the audacity to say our work needs to be reviewed before it can be published," Stout said.

Kevin Ownbey, board president, thanked the students and said he appreciated them for having the courage to show up and address the board and administrators. Superintendent Jim Rollins and board members gave the students a round of applause, but didn't otherwise address the issue during the meeting.

After the meeting Rollins called the journalism students "phenomenal young people." He said he understood their perspective.

"They are great kids with a passion and commitment to what they're doing," Rollins said. "On the other hand, from my chair, I have to be focused on bringing services forward that benefit all children and respect all children, including those young people who actually penned the articles. Every child in this district is important. And we've tried to operate our school system with that in mind."

A committee consisting largely of journalism teachers is working on a policy to address how student publications are handled, he said.

"I don't have a role to play in that, but I'm looking forward to the recommendations our journalism teachers will bring forward," Rollins said.

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  • hah406
    December 12, 2018 at 10:41 a.m.

    Prior restraint by the administration does not fall within the bounds of Arkansas law unless it meets very specific criteria, which these articles did not. The Springdale administration is attempting to censor and limit student's first amendment rights.

  • obbie
    December 12, 2018 at 1:36 p.m.

    I'd dislike being the Grinch working as censor for any school district anywhere. Media censor like this is a bridge into the real world for students. It's a reward (?) for learning how to tell the truth, and what a reward for doing your job. Wow-Merry Christmas.

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    December 12, 2018 at 3:01 p.m.

    I support the sharp thinking students on this one but if they think in the "real world" that there isn't an editor or boss that will critique their work before publication. they have a lot to learn. sounds like the administration had something to hide and the students wanted transparency. Good for them.!

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    December 12, 2018 at 3:39 p.m.

    An Arkansas state representative has filed a bill allowing social media websites to be sued for removing certain religious and political posts, whether or not the platforms deem the posts to be hate speech.

    House Bill 1028, titled the "Stop Social Media Censorship Act," was filed Wednesday by Rep. Johnny Rye, a Republican from Trumann. It proposes a minimum civil damage amount of $75,000 for each post that's removed or censored through an algorithm or other means. Under the bill, social media sites are considered a public utility subject to "special government regulation."

    The bill applies to social media sites with at least 75 million users, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It allows the Arkansas attorney general to bring civil litigation against those companies on behalf of social media users in the state.

    "What's also curious about this bill is that the owner of that -- or the operator of that social media platform is only liable if they live in Arkansas so I'm not aware of any of those platforms or operators living in Arkansas," said John DiPippa, Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas Little Rock law school.

    Rye, who is an active Facebook user, said Thursday that he authored the bill in response to a "movement going on across our nation" to censor certain content, particularly religious posts, on social media. He could not point to a specific case of online censorship and said no one in his district had raised the issue.

    "We're just trying to make sure that folks have freedom of speech," he said.

    DiPippa said that the bill's language is questionable when it applies to the First Amendment.

    "The biggest problem, however, is that the First Amendment doesn't allow the government to force private speakers to adopt anyone's viewpoint," he said.

    Republicans across the country, including President Donald Trump, have claimed that Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms have unfairly suppressed and censored conservative content. Far-right personalities like Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer and Alex Jones have been permanently banned for violating hate speech policies on the websites.

    Hate speech is defined in Rye's bill as "content that an individual arbitrarily finds offensive based on his or her personal moral code." The bill says "alleged hate speech" cannot be used to justify the removal of political or religious posts. But the bill has exceptions, such as content that calls for "immediate acts of violence, is obscene, or is pornographic in nature."

    "People sometimes hide behind their own religion with things that are actually wrong," Rye said. "We're not looking for that to happen."

    Ethnic slurs would also be an exception, Rye said.

    Republicans in at least nine other states are pursuing similar legislation, according to reports.