In favor of repealing prior review

The+logo+of+George+Mason+High+School%27s+student+newspaper%2C+The+Lasso

Editorial Board

The following is the text of Lasso Editor-in-Chief Kate Karstens’ presentation to the Falls Church City School Board on October 12, 2016. Karstens appealed to the board to repeal FCCPS Board Policy 9.46, which allows for administrative “prior review” of all student publication work. 


Good evening. My name is Kate Karstens and I am the editor in chief of The Lasso. We are the voice for the students of George Mason High School. I am speaking on behalf of The Lasso and all publications at Mason in an effort to repeal board policy 9.46, a policy that condones and encourages censorship. This policy of prior review serves only to cripple our newspaper and fails to educate student journalists at George Mason.

We have countless community members who support of us, some of whom are here tonight.

The policy currently in place stifles a student’s ability to report on breaking news, as we must first check with the school’s principal, who is our editor, according to the policy, before we publish anything. It does not, as the policy states, encourage “an appreciation for the Constitution.”

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How can I be expected to practice journalism after high school if I have never practiced without the restraint of censorship? As educational leaders, you are aware that the best way to learn is through experience, and this policy prohibits that.

Policy 9.46 also holds the school district responsible for any and all mistakes made by students. This means that if someone wanted to sue the Lasso for whatever reason, the school would be directly responsible and be the party faced with the suit. Under the policy I have written, the responsibility of the paper is taken away from the school and placed in the hands of the students, under the supervision of the adviser. And for the record, there has never been a recorded case of a high school newspaper that has a policy of free press being sued in the United States.

Countless states and surrounding schools have made the monumental decision to give their students the freedoms they deserve. Every public school in Washington, D.C. The entire state of Maryland, Illinois, and California. There are more.

Chantilly High School has been operating under a free press policy for five years now, and the paper, yearbook, and individual writers have been award winners of the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for many of those years. We belong to this same Association, as do publications across the country, but we are a small minority of those under the restrictions of prior review. As a result, we struggle each year to place among large publications or earn awards because we cannot publish pieces that make the impact that CSPA looks for.

Awards aside, we want to publish pieces that matter to our students. This policy deters us from considering sensitive topics. Teen pregnancy and drug and alcohol abuse impact my peers and there are countless stories that deserve to be written concerning these topics, but under this policy, they cannot.

Organizations such as the Student Press Law Center, Journalism Education Association, and National Coalition Against Censorship all rally behind this cause for free expression through school publications. Journalism educators and judges around the country have urged schools to support and foster student free expression because it is key to persuading young people “that our Constitution is a living reality, not [just] parchment preserved under glass.”

Last year, Madison High School students fought the same fight that I fight today and won. Madison is ranked third in Virginia by the U.S. News. These are large schools that we consider to be our peers. Why are we behind the times? What are we waiting for? Why not Virginia? Why not Falls Church?

Falls Church City takes pride in their students, as they should. It’s difficult, however, to hear administrators talk about how proud of us they are, when they have no trust in us to publish our own perspective without approval. Give us a reason to make you proud. Trust your students, and trust this paper.

Repeal policy 9.46 and make history. Thank you.


Read the text of Karstens’ revised proposal submitted to FCCPS School Board
Read the letter of support to FCCPS School Board by National Coalition Against Censorship
Read a profile of Karstens in the Falls Church News-Press