Last week, the publications class of Plainfield High School distributed their first newsmagazine of the school year, featuring a new topic-driven format and a new name, the “Shakedown.” The topic, “A Teen Dating Survival Guide,” has generated strong opinions from those opposed to the content, as well as strong supporters of both the content and the First Amendment.
Students do have journalistic freedoms, and school officials have the right to ensure school publications are appropriate for students of the ages for whom they will be distributed.
It has been customary for the newsmagazine to be reviewed by the high school principal or designee prior to being sent to the printer. In recent years, while some suggestions have been offered, no topics have been denied. In this case, the new name of the magazine was not discussed, nor were all articles shared, prior to printing or distribution.
Contrary to many reports, the students have not been punished, and the publications class is not being eliminated. There was no censorship. The teacher has not been terminated.
The focus of the “Shakedown” was a topic that is relevant to high school students, although as with anything, there are many opinions about what is appropriate and what is not. Likewise, what is appropriate for a 14-year old might be very different for an 18-year old. We understand that. Plainfield is a Community of Values and we work hard every day to instill those values in our students. We demand them of our teachers.
It is simply not realistic that we would all agree on whether or not these topics, selected, researched, and written by students for students, fall within the bounds of what everyone considers appropriate. The same could be said for any topic.
For adults, the First Amendment allows us to share differing opinions in the hopes of encouraging civil discussion. Sadly, in this era of social media, the discussion often becomes anything but civil.
In November, we honor “Respect for Other’s Rights.” Years ago, members of our community defined that as “acknowledging and valuing the opinions, views and possessions of others.”
As we turn the page to November 1st, we reflect on what we’ve learned about the First Amendment, and how we can respectfully share differing opinions. It is our role to model these behaviors to our students.