A City of Censorship

Five Student Publications Reflect on Their Experiences


Ali Kagan

Senior Sammy Kagan (left) and junior Avani Kalra (right) pose after presenting at the NSPA/JEA High School Journalism Convention about their experiences with censorship and advice to students at other schools.

By Sammy Kagan and Grace Buono

According to the U.S. Department of Education, as of 2014, there are 37,100 secondary schools across the country, and of those, 10,693 are private institutions. In other words, students attending over 10,000 different high schools are not protected under the First Amendment—Parker included.

Evanston Township High School

Regardless of whether a school is public or not, students almost universally face censorship issues involving controversial articles covered in student publications. On September 22, 2018, members of Evanston Township High School’s student-run newspaper, “The Evanstonian,” were stopped in the halls while distributing their latest issue. Despite receiving a “go-ahead” from the principal earlier in the week, despite their status as a public school securing full first amendment press freedoms, and despite the reporting in question being undoubtedly important for the greater Evanston community, staff members had their papers seized.

“The department chair from the English department came to us and started taking the stacks of papers that the kids were handing out and asked me to come to her office with her,” Executive Editor Katy Donati said. “She explained to me that the paper is going to be revoked and that there were basically higher-ups saying that we had to pull the paper and that there were issues with it.” One of three Executive Editors of “The Evanstonian,” Donati leads the paper alongside fellow seniors Michael Colton and Harrison Witt.

The controversy in question surrounded “The In-Depth,” a regular feature of “The Evanstonian” wherein several staff members extensively profile a given issue. The section, which had previously covered issues such as gender roles and student health, had turned its attention to marijuana—and the school was not happy.

In the following weeks and months, “The Evanstonian” led a fight in favor of uncensored press, speaking before the school board and even contacting attorney Stan Zoller, a member of the Illinois Journalism Education Association Hall of Fame with a background in dealing with high school papers.

“The Evanstonian” was eventually allowed to publish its spread on marijuana after making changes dictated by various ETHS higher-ups and including a disclaimer asserting, “The sale of Marijuana is a crime punishable by time in prison. The Evanstonian does not condone the production, sale or consumption of marijuana products.”

University of Chicago Laboratory School

The U-High Midway” at the University of Chicago Laboratory School faces a different climate from that seen at Evanston Township, since U-High is a private school, its paper lacks First Amendment protections, but nevertheless it enjoys a culture free of prior-review and prior-restraint.

“We don’t have prior-review as a paper, and our administration is pretty accepting of whatever we want to print,” Talia Goerge-Karron, one of U-High’s two Editors-in-Chief said. Karron shares her position with fellow senior Dheven Unni.

Goerge-Karron further stated that the paper has never experienced an instance wherein third-parties prevented articles from going to press, asserting that “across the board,” “The Midway” is free to “print and publish at our discretion.”

Still, “The Midway” often faces challenges in scheduling interviews and securing credible sources. “Getting in contact with the administration is sometimes very difficult depending on what we’re talking about and what kind of issues stories are about,” Goerge-Karron said.

Goerge-Karron additionally classified “certain administrators” as evasive, categorizing their actions as a “subtle form of censorship.” “It’s very difficult sometimes to write stories to the extent where we’ve been told to schedule our interviews three weeks in advance,” she said. “I’ve brought quotes to be verified and had them edited right in front of me which, you know, isn’t journalism.”

Ultimately, Goerge-Karron believes that “The Midway” requires determination and strength to succeed. “I think persistence is key,” she said. “That’s the most important thing.”

This story continues and was originally published on The Weekly on January 31, 2019.