School board revamping newspaper policy

By Darrell Todd Maurina

Future editors of the student newspaper at Clovis High School won’t face prior review of their articles by the school principal and students will be allowed to produce “an underground student press” if a proposed policy is approved.

The new policy — which calls for prescribed time and place distribution rules — was proposed at Tuesday’s school board meeting, where school officials verbally supported the proposed changes.

The four-page policy provides that student editors “are responsible for determining the news, opinion and advertising content of their publications subject to the limitations of this policy and state law.” Rather than the principal, the publication’s advisor is to establish or limit writing assignments. A policy on resolving disputes provides that petitioners are to submit their objections to the publication’s advisor with subsequent appeals permitted to the principal, superintendent, and the school board.

The policy will be formally considered and voted upon at the August board meeting, but board members said they liked what they saw.

Board president Lora Harlan asked what the role of the principal would be under the new policy.

“We did not include that by intent,” said Superintendent Neil Nuttall. “We wanted to have the same relationship for the journalism teacher that any other teacher has with their principal.”

That’s a change from the existing policy, under which three Clovis High students received in-school suspensions in April for passing out a flier at school protesting administrative censorship of their school newspaper, the Purple Press.

Purple Press editor Matthew Coker and two student reporters told the Clovis News Journal in April they were trying to gain public support after Nuttall told the high school principal to reinstate administrative prior review of the paper’s content. The student journalists said administrative complaints began after publication of two stories covering cancellation of an attendance monitoring program and a ban on teachers wearing blue jeans.

Nuttall told the board that journalism teacher Carol Singletary, who also serves as the publications advisor, was the “driving force” behind the new policy.

Singletary had previously defended the right of students to write on controversial subjects.

Singletary said she based the policy on one used by a Colorado school district.

“I think it is so important that our students have a voice,” Singletary said. “I think it’s a wonderful policy, it’s almost exactly what I recommended. It is very student-centered, which is what we are all about.”

Board member Mark Lansford, a former editor of the Clovis High student newspaper, said he wished a similar policy had been in place when he was editor.
“My first inclination is it is very well-written,” Lansford said. “I hope that in practice, the students and faculty involved with the publication can work with the policy. I think it is a very good start.”

Nuttall said he feels “very positive” about the new policy.
“I think it is a combination of what our students and our staff were looking for,” Nuttall said. “It’s very well- defined, and it has an appeals policy in it.”

Nuttall said the Clovis policy will be the most detailed among the larger school districts in New Mexico.
“I think this is the best policy out there,” Nuttall said. “It actually allows a student to appeal all the way to the board if they feel they are being prevented from writing a story.”
The policy would also allow the subjects of articles to appeal against publication of an article, Nuttall said.