Congress shall make no law

By Jessie Opoien

Imagine Bettendorf High School senior Brittani Cobb’s surprise when she learned some football players on the highly successful Bulldogs’ football team had been punished for cheating, doing drugs and drinking.

OK, that’s difficult to imagine. High school students bending and breaking rules is nothing new, and certainly no surprise.

What is surprising is the administration’s blatant disregard of Iowa Code, Sec. 280.22 (Student exercise of free expression) in the events that followed Cobb’s discovery. Section 280.22 secures the right to exercise freedom of expression for students of public schools in student publications and other venues.

However, Bettendorf administrators snatched that right away from Cobb — and, effectively, the entire Bettendorf High School population.

Cobb told the Student Press Law Center she was writing a football story for the school’s newspaper, The Growl, when a few players told her about their bad behavior and subsequent punishments. Knowing it was a risky story, she checked and double-checked to make sure her sources approved of the information that would be printed.

When administrators learned what was in the Feb. 2 edition of The Growl, they yanked all remaining copies. Superintendent Theron Schutte told the Quad-City Times there was “confidential information about students” in the story, and that it caused “substantial disruption” of the school day.

Certainly these administrators must realize that making a story “forbidden” is far more disruptive in a high school environment than any information the story contained.

But they didn’t stop there. Cobb was stripped of her position as Growl editor-in-chief and is allowed to remain a reporter only if she apologizes to her adviser, Connie King, and follows specific rules with her writing.

It’s unclear to me why Cobb’s story necessitates an apology to King. Moreover, as a high school journalism adviser, King’s failure to speak to the media about the situation is disappointing.

These administrators need to know it’s not OK to take away these students’ rights, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Iowa Code. Cobb and her fellow students should know that, despite the administration’s (and possibly her adviser’s) mishandling of the situation, First Amendment advocates around the state — and the nation — support them and their rights.

(Jessie Opoien is a journalism and mass communication student at Iowa State University.)

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