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Westside journalism students ask administration to not censor student media

Posted at 6:52 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 22:06:01-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Westside High School Journalism students are asking administration to not censor their student media.

Over the summer, a negative hashtag about a district member was placed in the bio of the Westside Wired Twitter account. Students say the hashtag was placed by an unauthorized person and it was taken down immediately.

Following the social media incident, administration announced a prior review policy would be enforced. Westside Community Schools superintendent Mike Lucas says the enforcement of the policy was not prompted by the social media incident. In a statement he said there has been concern with the journalism department long before.

While students claim the administration's policy would require all articles to be approved by administration, Lucas said student media should be approved by journalism instructors.

"Articles should not flow from students straight to building administrators like many of them have been. Instructors need to own their program’s content and can send to administration only if they feel they need help and support," Lucas wrote.

Administration says a prior review policy has been in place since the 1970s but students and alum say the policy has not been enforced in decades.

"Never in my experience or in the history of what I know of this program was there a systematic review of articles and never did I experience the administration saying, 'No, you can not write this article because it’s too controversial," Lea Rendell, Westside High School alumnus of 2011 said.

State Senator Adam Morfeld has proposed a bill that aims to protect the first amendment rights of students. He said students should be able to express their voices. Some of the Westside journalism students testified for Morfeld's bill.

"The students that testified from Westside are incredibly intelligent, articulate, they’re the types of young Nebraskans we want to foster and keep here. When we have government institutions and entities and government officials like Mr. Lucas unnecessarily censoring and providing prior review, it really diminishes their work and their voice and it’s completely unnecessary," Morfeld said.

Alums say they want future journalism students to experience the same amazing program they did.

"I think some changes to a policy or choosing to do something differently than before is a good idea when something is broken but the journalism department at Westside was far from broken. It was exceptional and I just hope that they don’t continue down a road in which that no longer is the case," Rendell said.

Superintendent Lucas said they are working with the journalism department to create a sensible process. He apologized to students for the anger and sadness the situation has caused.