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Arkansas high school suspends student-run newspaper

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. >> The school district of a northwest Arkansas high school that suspended its student newspaper after it published an article alleging improper transfers by football players said today that district administrators are “reviewing the issue.”

Springdale District spokesman Rick Schaeffer also said that the district was not involved in the paper’s suspension.

Buzzfeed News first reported Saturday that Har-ber High School in Springdale, about 150 miles northwest of Little Rock, ceased the Har-ber Herald’s publication after students conducted a monthlong investigation into the transfer of five Har-ber football players to a different district high school. The Har-ber Herald reported at least two of them acknowledged that they did so to have a better chance of playing football, which would violate district policy.

Schaeffer did not comment on whether the article had false information or misrepresented facts. In a statement, district superintendent Jim Rollins called the article “intentionally negative, demeaning, hurtful and potentially harmful to the students” as well as “divisive and disruptive” to the school’s community. But Rollins did not dispute the article’s allegations.

The district instructed the paper’s adviser, teacher Karla Sprague, to remove the story from its website, and the article was taken down. Har-ber principal Paul Griep told the paper’s adviser that nothing could be published until new guidelines were created.

Student Press Law Center Executive Director Hadar Harris said the school’s actions amount to censorship. Harris and journalists from the student newspaper were in Chicago at a conference when the school called for the article’s removal. The center advises student reporters on various legal and ethical journalistic issues, Harris said, from libel and copyright law to censorship.

“Everyone is hoping that the school district will review the situation and revise their decision,” Harris said. She called on the school and the district to re-publish the article, reinstate the paper and eliminate review guidelines, saying that if the district doesn’t take those steps, “the students may decide to pursue legal action.”

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