Call it “standards,” “regulations,” even “concern” for the student-run publication—just don’t call it censorship of the Hellgate Lance. At a May 26 school board committee meeting where board members and citizens discussed the Lance and other Missoula County Public School publications, the word “censor” was not too popular. When used, it was generally quickly followed by one of the three friendlier aforementioned substitutes. When Trustee Drake Lemm voiced support for unadorned censorship, he was in the minority.
“Everyone seems to be concerned about censorship,” he says. But he believes teenagers require it. “You need to censor what they do,” he says.
The school board was discussing the role a journalism advisor should play in overseeing a student-run newspaper, and how the board itself might more closely regulate school publications. The issue arose after the Coalition for Community Responsibility (CCR) voiced strong opposition to the language—some of it represented by asterisks—in three Lance articles.
Collectively, the articles were referred to as “crude and offensive” by a number of those at the board meeting.
Journalism student Cascade Tuholske authored one of the articles under fire. “The irony behind this thing is the article I wrote was condemning…the modern rap culture,” he says. “In a way, I’m on the same side [as CCR].”
Trustee Naomi DeMarinis assured Tuholske that someday in his journalistic career, he would see the conflict as a learning experience.
Many board members agreed that crafting a policy to effectively “regulate” the papers without infringing on First Amendment rights would be difficult.
“I don’t know if we can do it,” said Lemm.
Soon thereafter, board members floated the idea of asking the students to draft their own policy, although students had expressed more reticence to step onto a slippery slope of “self-censorship” than eagerness to write policy.
A parent, afraid that a senior boy might approach her freshman daughter and read illicit portions of the newspaper to her in the lunchroom, wanted to make sure the students knew she herself wasn’t opposed to their writing. “There is some very fine writing going on.” Nod, smile. “OK? Very good.”