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article imageOp-Ed: Rape culture article in school paper leads to censorship policy

By Brett Scruton     Mar 14, 2014 in Politics
Fond Du Lac - A Wisconsin school district's decision to require school administrators to approve student newspaper subject matter is taking a lot of heat.
The Fond du Lac School District of Fond du Lac, WI is under heavy scrutiny for a new publication policy allowing high school and district administration to determine what subject matter is acceptable in student-run newspapers. The new policy came in to effect after Fond du Lac High School’s newspaper, Cardinal Columns, published an article on “rape culture” within the high school. Students and their supporters are now in an uproar about a possible infringement on their First Amendment rights.
The February 2014 issue of the monthly student newspaper featured the article, “The Rape Joke: Surviving Rape in a Culture that Won’t Let You.” The article (Linked in full here) uses a combination of personal stories, explanation of “rape culture,” national statistics, and poll research from Fond du Lac students.
In direct response to the article, the school district implemented the new restrictions to police the content presented in school newspapers. According to ABC’s Channel 2 WBAY, Fond du Lac’s principal, John Wiltzius, stated, "If an article would come to me with a topic that does not meet the expectations or guidelines then yes I will have to deny that." Wiltzius added that the story wasn’t necessarily dead for future follow-ups, but that the presentation and appropriateness will be worked on with students.
Students are finding this problematic for numerous reasons. The obvious call is that it breaks their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. While the district is avoiding claims of censorship, the legal precedent for policies like this are rooted in limited censorship. The 1988 Supreme Court case, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeler, upheld the district’s position to censor stories about teen pregnancy and divorce in school-sponsored newspapers. However, courts cases since the decision emphasize the limitations to censorship against student newspapers and the existence of First Amendment rights for students.
Principal Wiltzius’s statements to WBAY leave room for confusion as to how subject matter qualifies for print. On one hand, the policy can essentially veto subject matter, but the prospects of working with students on presentation implies that the school district can, through oversight, frame subject matter. Both are subject to First Amendment critiques.
The biggest concern for many is why the particular article created the policy. Rape culture is increasingly coming into the national spotlight, and is undeniably a grossly tragic problem. The Obama Administration’s released report “A Renewed Call to Action” for issues of sexual assault and rape reported that, “1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while she’s in college.” With more stories on rape culture in college and the military taking the spotlight, articles putting the spotlight on rape culture in high school are far and few between.
The unintended consequence of the Fond du Lac School District’s decision is the gradual globalization of a story that would normally keep to the confines of the school. The district is not budging on their decision, but the students of the Cardinal Columns are gaining international support. Additionally, it doesn’t go unnoticed by many, that the attempts to prevent articles that both educate and provide testimonial on rape fall into the definition of ignorance that keeps rape culture alive.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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