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Indiana high school implements policy of prior review after controversial publication

March 21, 2019

Student journalists at Plainfield High School in Plainfield, Indiana, have been censored by school administrators for their reporting, according to the student co-editor of the school’s paper.

Plainfield High School implemented a policy of content review prior to publication after its publication, the Quaker Shaker, published an issue that focused on dating and relationships in October 2017.

The issue, called the Shakedown, was the magazine’s first “special topic” edition, exploring the ins and outs of relationships in high school. It featured polls about the prevalence of sexting and topics like dating violence.

After some parents and school administrators took issue with the content, a new school policy was implemented requiring approval from the principal and an advisory committee before publishing, according to Plainfield High School journalism adviser Michelle Burress.

Co-editor of the Quaker Shaker Anu Nattam said that after the policy was in place, the publication was forced to change the name of their special edition issues to the Shakeout because the school argued that the name Shakedown had mafia connotations.

“We’ve also had to change quotes, and delete quotes for trivial things that make no sense,” Nattam told the Freedom of the Press Foundation in 2018. She also noted that they were asked to change the cover photo of one magazine issue because merely it showed a picture of a clothed posterior.

But it is her responsibility as a student journalist, Nattam said, to report on issues that are relevant to the student body, even if they might be controversial.

Nattam’s adviser Burress said that students have self-censored since the policy was put in place, and they worry about everything they write coming under intense scrutiny. “They are shying away from topics that normally they would not hesitate to cover because they do not want to get shot down,” she said last year. “More than ever this year, students are saying that they do not want to be quoted or pictured in the news magazine or yearbook.”

Nattam agrees. “People need to realize that by limiting press freedom for students, they are limiting their education. That’s what I feel like was done to me and my staff—our education was compromised, because we can’t be put in the same environment as a professional journalist. So, we can’t prepare for a career in journalism if that’s what we choose to do.”

— The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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