To avoid burying the lead:
The final issue of Cardinal Columns for the year has been killed by censorship. An administrator “suggested” several changes, refused to say if the suggestions could be ignored and then pushed it off onto another administrator who won’t be in until Monday. Based on the current printing schedule, submitting the issue next week will guarantee it won’t be ready until after graduation, effectively killing the whole thing.
And now the back story…
About two weeks ago, I got a note that the Fond du Lac school district appeared to finally start acting right. A source told me that shortly after Memorial Day, a six-person committee was going to meet to review some sample student media policies. The committee would include two members of the Cardinal Columns staff, the paper’s adviser, the director of pupil services, a member of the English faculty and an assistant principal. The idea would be to create a policy for the FDL school district that would better reflect free-speech protection while still providing that coveted “adult oversight” that administrators appear to crave. The idea would be that the district could look “official,” the kids could get back to journalism and everyone would save face.
People I talked to said they felt optimistic. I didn’t.
The arrogance of the superintendent, the general lack of knowledge present in the administration and the inability for all the shame in the world to not even dent their shell of cluelessness had me figuring this to be a sham.
As Steve Buscemi said in “Armageddeon,” I hate knowing everything.
Today, shortly before the discussions were to begin on the drafting of this policy, Assistant Principal Peter Snyder handed over the draft copy of the final edition of Cardinal Columns for the semester. On it, he had written several comments and decreed several changes “should be made.”
Snyder was pinch-hitting for Principal Jon Wiltzius, who was out of school all week and wouldn’t return until Monday. It’s unclear if these were the feelings of Snyder or his administrative doppleganger Jim Sebert. Apparently Sebert’s name was uttered more times in the discussion of what has to be done than Donald Trump uses the word “I” while dictating his autobiography during a meth jag.
Things that needed to be cut, according to Tanvi Kumar’s Twitter account were:
- A quote regarding birth control in a story about a student who had gotten pregnant and was raising a child
- References to abortions in that story as a recitation of fact
- A quote from a student that explained how she felt horrible when she had to see her rapist while at school
This and several other things were required to be cut because writing about them, “reflects negatively on Fond du Lac High School.”
Of course, Snyder quickly found out that you can stop the press, but you can’t stop the news. Before the end of the day, he was fielding phone calls from the media and emails from others, based on a social media explosion on the topic. Apparently, he told the students he was “trying to do us a favor by stepping in while Wiltzius was out.” He then declined to tell the kids if they had to actually change stuff or if these suggestions could be discussed or ignored. He then exacerbated the stupidity of the situation by telling the kids to take it up with Wiltzius on Monday.
If the paper doesn’t get out to the printer until next week, it won’t be back in time for graduation. If that happens, it’s worthless, so it probably won’t be printed. In short, by demanding unreasonable changes to this issue, the administration has effectively prohibited publication. Thus, the textbook definition of censorship.
When this policy first came about, several school board members tried to play it off as being much ado about nothing. One even noted that he didn’t imagine that anything would really change and that no real impact would be felt.
Quick question for Mr. Sunshine: Has the paper ever FAILED TO COME OUT before? If the answer is “no,” it’s pretty clear this policy IS having an impact and it IS a negative one.
Even worse, this puts a damper on the whole idea of crafting a policy that could lead to peace with honor for everyone. The administration could have said, “We understand people are upset and although we feel we’re within our rights, we want to be good citizens and really discuss the issue.” The kids could have said, “We’re glad they heard us and are willing to work with us toward a mutually beneficial solution.” The superintendent could have even looked like a decent guy with a “ We’re glad this is all behind us and we can get on with the business of this great school district” quote.
Instead, all that Snyder and Sebert have done here is cast doubt and suspicion on the upcoming process. If I’m the Cardinal Columns kids, I have NO REASON to trust ANYTHING that the administration says. (Shit, if Sebert and I were standing outside right now and a rainstorm was soaking us to the bone, he could say, “Man it’s raining out here,” and I’d STILL ask someone else to verify that fact.)
If the Cardinal Column kids are reading this, here’s my advice. During this “Gang of Six” committee meeting, go in there with your chinstrap buckled tight and watch your six.
Trust is something these people have yet to earn from you.