Editorial: What are they teaching students in Faribault?

Published 8:29 am Tuesday, December 30, 2008

There is no way a school district can instill American values into its students if part of their education is the shutting down of the student newspaper because the superintendent didn’t get to see the story before it prints.

Like many school administrators across the United States, Faribault Superintendent Bob Stepaniak fails to understand the First Amendment and its role in America’s success.

At issue was a story about a female middle school teacher who was placed on administrative leave after complaints of inappropriate communication with a student. The student journalists simply went to the Faribault Daily News, which verified the research, did additional investigation, then printed a story Dec. 10. The Rice County attorney never pressed charges against the teacher, but the police investigation describes several text messages allegedly sent to male students.

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Stepaniak falsely argues the release of such details in the Echo would jeopardize the district’s duty to privacy laws. But the Echo was seeking to print information sourced from a police report and therefore already a public document. Anyone has the right to go see it. Stepaniak only was trying to quash the story.

We realize that because the Echo is a student paper, it has less First Amendment protection than a traditional newspaper, thanks to the 1988 Hazelwood ruling. However, many states, such as Iowa, Colorado and Kansas, have enacted anti-Hazelwood laws that recognize the free-speech and free-press rights of student journalists. Minnesota should use this incident as motivation to pass a similar law.

Stepaniak chose to teach the students in his district that the government can control the press. That’s not really the spirit behind having a student newspaper, and what’s the point of having a student newspaper if it doesn’t serve as a true learning laboratory?

Let’s hope the new Faribault school board gets the Echo printing again.