Superintendent Alex Apostle has declared war on a number of fronts over the past two years: exorbitant student dropout rates, technologically outdated classrooms, and inadequate funding, just to name a few. His declarations of war, while colored with questions, always come with something of a well-crafted argument to back the high costs and radical changes they require. It's all part of his master plan to bring Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) into the 21st century.
Yet Apostle's latest campaign seems more geared toward hindering public education than improving it, and singles out a new and unusual enemy: free speech.
MCPS on June 30 revised—or, rather, completely rewrote—its 2003 policy regarding administrative oversight of student publications, awarding prior review to principals and declaring school-sponsored student newspapers "not a public forum for general student use." The new language is up for public comment through Aug. 4, and we're betting we aren't the only ones anticipating some Story of Stuff style fireworks in the coming weeks.
Apostle's argument isn't quite so well crafted this time around. The district claims it's acting out of concern for potential libel suits, but that makes about as much sense as the constant shuffling of principals and vice principals around MCPS. This policy rewrite reeks of censorship at a time when Missoula's schools are undergoing constant change—change that has been questioned by many individuals in the community, most notably by those in the schools themselves. Student journalists at Hellgate, Sentinel or Big Sky can't expect to tackle articles critical of Apostle or their principals if those same administrators are screening their work.
Just in pitching this policy change, Apostle is robbing his students of some serious lessons. What kind of example does he hope to set for Missoula's young adults by placing the question of appropriateness in the hands of administrators? Depriving students of that responsibility only stunts their growth and tells them they can't be trusted to make their own calls and deal with the consequences.
Apostle has so far prided himself on his attempts to usher MCPS into the future. Based on this latest development, we can only guess he sees the next hundred years as a time when young adults are mere children and speech rights are a relic.