Arkansas school district allows paper to post banned article

488

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. | An Arkansas school district that ordered a student newspaper remove an investigative report now says the article can be re-published on its website.

A spokesman for the Springdale School District said Tuesday the Har-ber Herald will be allowed republish its months-long investigation into the transfer of six football players to a rival high school. The article alleged the students transferred for athletic, not academic reasons, which would violate district policy. Springdale had ordered the article be taken off the paper’s website in November and had effectively suspended the newspaper’s operations.

By late Tuesday, the article had been re-posted on various websites, including by professional journalists on social media. The Student Press Law Center also posted the article, and an accompanying editorial by the newspaper’s staff, to its website.

The article was first published on Oct. 30, said the paper’s editor-in-chief Halle Roberts, but students had been investigating the transfers for nearly a year. Three days after its publication, Springdale directed the Herald to remove the article from its website.

After the newspaper staff asked the district to reconsider, Superintendent Jim Rollins sent a memo to the paper’s adviser, Karla Sprague, denying the request. Rollins called the article, “intentionally negative, demeaning, hurtful and potentially harmful to the students” as well as “extremely divisive and disruptive” to the community.

The reporting was spearheaded by Har-ber junior Jack Williams, who said last year some of the football players said in on-the-record conversations they’d transferred to Springdale High School to improve their chances at playing football at a Division I school. After the story went cold for a few months, Sprague and Roberts assigned Williams and two other reporters, Molly Hendren and Matteo Campagnola, to investigate further. Williams said an anonymous source used a Freedom of Information request to obtain documents that suggested the athletes’ parents requested the transfers for academic reasons, which deviated from the students’ stories.

The source also shared a video which showed the father of one football player burning Har-ber gear in a fire pit. Also recorded was Springdale High’s football coach, which Herald staff thought constituted a recruitment violation.

Williams said the immediate reception by the school community was “almost unanimously positive. My track coach came up and shook my hand and told me it was a good article. In a Nov. 27 letter, Har-ber principal Paul Griep instructed Sprague not to publish anything without prior administrative review. The district also said it was reviewing existing rules and would establish new protocols for student publications.