The Harker journalism department received a special visit in early December from Nick Ferentinos, former journalism advisor at Homestead High School, whose student newspaper, “The Epitaph,” was among the first school newspapers to be censored under the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court ruling of 1988. The ruling limited the speech of student newspapers that were not designated as forums for student expression.
Ferentinos recounted that mere hours after the ruling was handed down, the principal at Homestead demanded the withholding of an “Epitaph” story about a student at the school who had been diagnosed HIV-positive. Because the paper was school-sponsored, the staff at first felt compelled to comply with the principal’s request. However, California Education Code 48907 acted as a counter to the Hazelwood ruling, protecting student speech and allowing the story to run.
“What was really heartwarming about Ferentinos’ narrative was that he really emphasized how the publication staff stuck together to get through the ordeal, and the entire case was an issue of the publication’s integrity and not just that of the student’s,” said “Winged Post” staffer Juhi Gupta, grade 11.
“They stood by the accuracy and importance of their story and the integrity of the author. I think our whole class really appreciated the reminder that we have rights, as Mr. Ferentinos said, but also a responsibility to ‘be stubborn,’ said junior Apoorva Rangan, who also works on the “Winged Post.”
For Gupta, Ferentino’s story provided a valuable lesson about complacency and vigilance among young journalists: “I learned from his experience that student journalists should never get too comfortable and assume that backlash from administration will never happen, because as shown by the Homestead case, it could be provoked by anything.”
“I think bringing in these individuals who have had these life experiences that we may not have had reminds us that journalism isn’t really taught by books as much as it’s taught by people,” Rangan added.