Free expression encourages unique voices

April 9, 2015

An open letter to Stephanie Posey:

Ms. Posey, when you took the time to meet with North Star editors, you told us you immediately noticed one thing about Naperville North.

You noticed our passion. Through academics, athletics and extracurricular clubs, you probably noticed that we strive to make NNHS a vibrant community. Whether it’s through JSA, Orchesis or yearbook, NNHS students express themselves. We are a high school full of unique talents, personalities and voices.

Free expression fosters this diversity. And as a student publication, we want you to know that we cover the unique stories that occur within the walls of NNHS. We report on it all.

For this reason, we ask that you respect and support our right to express ourselves.

Your enthusiasm and open mindedness impressed us. We appreciate that you took the time to ask about our publication policy, and we are encouraged that you said your intent is not to change anything or restrict our free speech. This relationship allows us to pursue important stories freely.

However, we understand that this task will present its challenges. Sometimes the stories we publish highlight issues that make people uncomfortable. Nevertheless, The North Star shines light on such topics because we want to see change. You can read about anxiety and depression, substance abuse, sexting and many other sensitive topics on our site. We cover these stories because we believe they matter. We’ve been recognized by the National Scholastic Press Association for our willingness to cover these topics— for our willingness to be a pacemaker in the field of scholastic journalism.

Yet we always face a looming threat. Student publications straddle a controversial line when it comes to basic First Amendment rights. Prior review and censorship, as well as varying definitions of what a public forum for expression truly is, can alter what it means to be a student journalist.

Though we know we are still learning the craft, we ask that you treat us as journalists. Just as our football players are allowed to play by nearly the same rules as NFL players, we ask that you allow us to play by the same rules as professional journalists.

We ask that you allow us to exercise our right to voice concerns for our student body without red tape. We ask that our voices be heard. In return we promise to exercise good judgment, and to be ethical in our pursuit of the truth.

Ultimately, we ask for your trust, Ms. Posey. Trust in our abilities to be a platform for our peers. We ask for the freedom of student expression because we need it to do our jobs.

You told the North Star editorial board in our interview that you currently exercise prior review of the student newspaper at Belleville East High School. While you, of course, have not explicitly asked for prior review of The North Star, we hope that you will resist the urge to review our work when you fear something we are covering may reflect negatively on our school.

The threat of prior review by its very nature censors the topics student journalists are willing to pursue. And if we cannot cover sensitive topics, important conversations will never begin. Growth and change will be stymied.

Ms. Posey, the editors and staff of the North Star believe strongly in the speech rights of all students. We believe students need an outlet where they can address legitimate concerns. The North Star strives to fill that role. Student journalists should never be afraid of making the school “look bad;” we should be afraid of looking the other way when something needs attention. Without free expression, we lose opportunities to facilitate productive conversations and solutions.

Freedom of expression is the passion of the dedicated staff who run this publication. Through our stories, we serve as a strong voice for the students of our school. This publication is our passion. We hope that you will allow us to pursue that passion earnestly and freely.

The Staff of The North Star 

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