Arkansas school censors yearbook by ripping out pages about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor
BIGELOW, ARKANSAS: An Arkansas school is facing a lot of flak for allegedly tearing out two pages of their 2020-2021 yearbook. ‘The Roaring 20s’ is the theme of Bigelow High School's book that presents a timeline of events from the academic year. Some of those events included, the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by the police, Donald Trump's claims of a rigged 2020 election, the attack on the Capitol building on January 6, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Though it’s not clear who made the decision to rip out the pages, East End School District Superintendent Heidi Wilson supported the move, citing “community backlash.” But some students and parents have accused the school of censorship. One of the students, Madison Johnston, who worked on the yearbook told Fox 16: “You could just see a little line where somebody had physically torn out the pages,” before adding, “they’re censoring something that is facts.”
The Student Press Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect press freedom rights for student journalists at high school and university student newspapers, has asked the school to add the missing pages and re-print the yearbook. A letter addressed to Wilson by SPLC Executive Director Hadar Harris read, “Student journalists have First Amendment rights that their schools cannot lawfully override. The U.S. Supreme Court set a ‘floor’ for the legal protection of student journalism in its 1988 ruling, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, and said that school officials have to demonstrate that their censorship is ‘reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.’ Although the Court did not specifically define every reason that could qualify as a ‘legitimate pedagogical concern,’ lower courts have clarified that schools may not use their authority over student publications to deny information to the public purely for purposes of public-relations image control.”
“Additionally, as you are no doubt aware, Arkansas is one of the 14 states that has passed a law granting student journalists protections beyond those required by the First Amendment. 2 As a result, your Bigelow High School students have heightened protection for their works of journalism, and Bigelow school officials have to meet a much higher standard than ‘community backlash’ before they are allowed to censor. It is painfully clear that you did not remove these pages from the yearbook for any legally justifiable reason. In fact, even the legally dubious reason you gave about the so-called “community backlash” failed to hold up under closer scrutiny,” it added.
Speaking with NPR, Harris stated, “We are very concerned about ensuring that they're taking seriously the issue at hand in terms of what they did. They ripped the pages out of the yearbook for no clear pedagogical purpose and on the basis of what they said was a community backlash. We don't see any evidence of that community backlash.”
Meanwhile, people on the internet are also bashing the school for removing the pages. A user tweeted, “Small-minded Bigelow High School administrators can rip out all the pages. They can try to erase history. But today's teens won't forget. Change is gonna come. #censorship #teachertwitter.” Another one wrote, “Every recipient of a damaged book should get a full refund. Censorship by bigots.” “A competent attorney will tell the Bigelow School Board not bother with the time/expense of fighting a lawsuit. The rights of student journalists are well established. Best to restore the pages, issue apology, reprimand those responsible now. @SPLC @ARPressAssoc @ACLU,” a tweet added.
Small-minded Bigelow High School administrators can rip out all the pages.— Michael Robbins, FRSA (🏳️🌈genfluid) (@mwrxyz) August 21, 2021
They can try to erase history.
But today's teens won't forget. Change is gonna come.#censorship #teachertwitter https://t.co/F7rx25c0Ap
Every recipient of a damaged book should get a full refund. Censorship by bigots.— Alex Thayer (@alexthayer_arky) August 10, 2021
A competent attorney will tell the Bigelow School Board not bother with the time/expense of fighting a lawsuit. The rights of student journalists are well established. Best to restore the pages, issue apology, reprimand those responsible now. @SPLC @ARPressAssoc @ACLU— MagnoliaReporter (@Magnolia_Report) August 8, 2021