In celebration of free speech week, which started Monday, October 17, Palmer Ridge High School’s school newspaper staff published an article demonstrating their opinion on recent politics. In it, they endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.
This article caused the community, parents and students included, to react negatively and even go so far as to post negative comments on social media about the incident. Many comments called for the newspaper staff to be punished, and others to be fired or suspended.
Although there was a negative reaction, the article also generated some positive feedback. Many students and teachers at Palmer Ridge are happy that students are actively taking an interest in politics and this country’s future.
But should politics, and political opinions, be included in a school newspaper?
Megan de Guzman, senior and one of the current editors in chief of the HR Chronicle, believes that it should.
“I feel very strongly about having freedom of speech and not censoring students in particular,” she said. “I was especially angry when I read the article about it because it said that the students clearly labeled it as an editorial and that the publication clearly said that they don’t reflect the views of the school or the school district.”
Due to this label of the article, she believes that the reaction to it was not appropriate and that the students had a right to publish their own opinions.
Should de Guzman and others on the newspaper staff receive an article promoting a political figure, they would do something similar to what the newspaper in Colorado Springs did: publish it in the editorial section and make sure to state that the article does not represent the views of the school or district.
Gina Bernacchi, a teacher librarian at Highlands Ranch and former newspaper editor, also believes that the article was perfectly acceptable and agrees with de Guzman.
“I think as long as it’s an editorial it’s ok,” she said. However, she believes that if the paper had been biased towards Trump or Clinton in any other section aside from the opinion section, it would have been much more inappropriate.
“And, you know, by punishing the reporters for doing what they do that’s censoring, and I don’t believe that community members should censor school newspapers,” Bernacchi said.
Technically, the law prohibits them to do so. The Colorado Student Free Expression Law specifically said that no one outside the newspaper staff has the right to look at or edit the newspaper before it is released to the public. Only a few other states have this kind of law.
When the newspaper released the article, parents also called for an article to be published that promoted Trump and that to only write about Hillary was unfair. Yet Bernacchi disagrees. “The editorial boards of newspapers do take a stand for one candidate over another,” she explains, “so because they endorsed Hillary Clinton does not mean that they then have to endorse Donald Trump.”
However, she said only in the editorial section can opinions be introduced freely without the need to include both sides of the argument, and there does need to be equality in the rest of the newspaper.
“I understand why students would be hesitant in, for example, a conservative community, to come out for Hillary Clinton, but all newspapers have to go through that,” she said. “You can get a lot of flak from coming out with a political opinion like that. So I think newspaper editors have to take the flak and I don’t think they should have to consider their community, especially when it’s opinion.” Bernacchi also said that newspapers aren’t supposed to be influenced by their community, and they decide what and what not to write about.
“That’s something that we have to pay a lot of attention to when we’re writing controversial stories in the Chronicle,” de Guzman said. “If we don’t label it as an editorial and that it was written by a specific person, then we’re saying that the beliefs that were expressed in that article represent the whole staff, which is not usually true. So it’s very important in journalism that you label things as opinion instead of fact.”
Kathryn Lopez, Guest Reporter