Cardinal Columns Update: English Faculty Call on School Board to Reverse Censorship Policy

The English faculty members at Fond du Lac High School are getting into the act when it comes to the recent decision to censor the school’s newspaper, Cardinal Columns.Download Fond du Lac High School English Department Statement, the faculty is asking for the board to alter the new guidelines to help make the paper an open forum for public expression.

The value of this, if the board were to act in this fashion, is that declaring the paper an open forum would allow for the staff to sidestep the ruling set down in the Hazelwood decision. In addition, the statement provides some valuable insights into the situation at the school in relationship to the publication:

To start, the faculty members note that, despite administrative protestations to the contrary, the ability of the principal to censor hasn’t always been the status quo:

Such guidelines are not only a clear path toward censorship of student expression but also drastically alter the relationship between school publications and the administration and break sharply with roughly 100 years of district precedent regarding such publications.

Second, and more importantly, they draw a big red circle around the “Don’t worry about the policy. We’re totally going to be cool” argument and call bullshit on it:

The Superintendent and principal have told the students that they will work with them to make sure high quality, powerful stories can still be published. However, the fact that the new guidelines were drawn up so quickly, in defiance of past precedent, without warning or consultation with the school newspaper advisor or staff or other interested parties, and in the most restrictive form possible has the students worried that such stories, while powerful and community building, may be controversial or not be “positive” enough to gain future approval.

And they are not alone.

Finally, my favorite part is this blinding flash of the obvious that will likely fail to win the argument, but is still important when talking about the students of tomorrow:

If anything, then, the attention this controversy has stirred up has confirmed one thing: our students, allowed some freedom to work together to think critically and make informed choices on their own along with the guidance of a highly qualified instructor, are capable of truly amazing things. Such work should be celebrated, not censored.

At this point in the game, I wonder if the administration has figured out it picked the wrong hill to die on. It’s clear that the principal is being out-played by a kid who isn’t old enough to drink yet. Tanvi Kumar is headed to George Washington University in the fall and if this gauntlet is any indication, she’s going to blow the doors of that place, too.

In every instance where Jon Wiltzius has been interviewed, he leaves bait out there, just waiting for her. He talks about needing more “positive stories” and how he’s going to be fair with the students. As I read these comments, I want to lose my mind and take the bait. Kumar, however, deftly sidesteps the trapdoor and drops an anvil on the administrative coyote’s head. A super-genius, he most assuredly is not.

The administration could have so easily found a better way to censor the publication had it not overreacted here. Not to put ideas in anyone’s head, but had issues of how to keep these meddling kids under control had seeped into their admini-brains, all they would have had to do is wait for that one screw up.

It happens at every paper: Somebody libels somebody else or there’s a giant fact error that leads to all sorts of hurt feelings or some moron writes a 1,600-word soliloquy about his dick. THAT’S when you pounce if you’re trying to get control of a student newspaper. It’s when the administration can look out at a group of “concerned citizens,” shake a copy of the paper at these people and say, “Who wants to read about a 15-year-old’s conversation with his pecker?” Everyone agrees it’s a shit piece and the need to control becomes self-evident.

Instead, the school district got no angry letters, no allegations of libel, no sense that story went too far or heard that something in the story was untrue. The administration picked the strongest part of the line and then engaged in the censoring version of the Charge of the Light Brigade. And the line appears to be holding.

The next school board meeting is Monday at 5 p.m. at the school district administration center 72 9th St. in Fond du Lac. If you’re in the area, stop by and add your support. If not, sign the petition, if you are so moved.