HSJ Headline News
Students at Newspaper Silenced
April 25, 2006
In the People's Republic of West Hartford, high school students with unpleasant viewpoints should be seen but not heard.
Consider the recent railroading of two Hall High School students, Ezra Silk and Ben Kudler, who had the audacity to try to spark debate about alcohol abuse.
Silk and Kudler had some worrisome things to say about behavior at Hall, a bastion of high-pressure academics.
Students were drinking themselves silly in "the ritual of post-midterm partying."
Actually, nobody has heard much at all about this. That's because the administration blocked them when they tried to use their positions as editors at the student newspaper to address what classmates were already instant-messaging each other about: out of control partying by stressed-out teenagers.
I don't know any more about teenagers than a high school teacher, but I've heard that when they want to talk, it's important to listen.
We're not talking a Mothers Against Drunk Driving crusade here. These are a couple of upperclassmen editors in liberal West Hartford who think there should be a public discussion about the role drinking plays in the life of students at one of the best high schools in the region.
So they submitted a few articles - raw and in need of editing - about "the not-so-secret drinking scene" at Hall.
Their faculty advisor told them no way would the paper write about this. School principal Donald Slater agreed. They never bothered to tell Silk and Kudler that there is a formal policy by which students can appeal First Amendment disputes like this.
Kudler and Silk like their school a great deal. They think teachers and the administration are honestly worried about alcohol abuse.
"They just don't want the students to talk about it," said Kudler, who is 16. "If the students start to talk about it, they might start seeing the levels of hypocrisy in the administration or their parents."
When they protested and pushed their case, Silk and Kudler were suspended from the paper, the Hall Highlights.
"Journalism is supposed to talk about the way people are living," Silk said. Drinking at parties "is what our social scene revolves around."
It all might have ended, except Silk and Kudler decided to think for themselves.
After the boys uncovered the West Hartford Board of Education policy backing First Amendment rights for students, a lawyer for the town - whose salary is paid by taxpayers - wrote to Ezra's father in order to "to clear up some of the misconceptions" that Ezra had been canned "because of the content of his writings."
"That is not the case," Kimberly J. Boneham wrote Mark Silk. Instead, she said it was because of his "behavior towards others." Further, she wrote "Ezra repeatedly submitted articles on concepts that had not received prior approval."
All this was news to Mark Silk, who was told by Slater that the suspension was because of what his son had written and not because of any "attitude or behavior issues."
Scrambling after finally realizing just how bad all this looks, West Hartford administrators reversed the boys' suspension. They were told they could rejoin the paper - but with restrictions on what they write.
Ezra Silk and Kudler said no thanks.
"They don't want there to be a real discussion," said Silk. "They want efficiency, things to go smoothly. You can't have a community when there is no discussion going on."
Maybe, but at least it won't appear in the student newspaper.
Copyright 2006, The Courant. Reprinted with permission