Arkansas School District Criticized For Removing High School Newspaper Article

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

An Arkansas high school newspaper article and editorial that had been spiked was reposted this week, but the controversy continues. The Har-Ber Herald investigated the transfer of five student football players from Har-Ber High School to Springdale High nearby. The article questioned if rules had been flouted to allow their transfer to a school with a better football team. The school district took down the reporting and reprimanded the paper's faculty adviser, calling the article, quote, "intentionally negative, demeaning, derogatory, hurtful and potentially harmful to the students addressed in those articles." But they didn't say the article was wrong. Jack Williams is a 17-year-old junior at Har-Ber High School, one of the co-authors of the article. He works on the school newspaper and joins us from the studios of KUAF in Fayetteville. Mr. Williams, thanks for being with us.

JACK WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: So what were you looking into?

WILLIAMS: At the start of this whole thing - it kind of started last year - we received word kind of just scattered throughout the school that some of our best football players were transferring to our rival school, and nobody was really happy about that. So Halle and another student journalist asked them kind of the nature of why they wanted to transfer. From there, they just kind of stated that they believe that coach Zak Clark at Springdale would be able to get their name out better and that should they actually go to Springdale, they would have much higher odds of getting into a Division I school.

SIMON: And I gather your reporting suggests that some of the rules to transfer a student were overlooked in this case. The students had - I gather the families had to say they were needy.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

SIMON: And is that true?

WILLIAMS: Well, I do certainly think that they were very eager to go over to Springdale. I think that they had grievances perhaps with coach Wood. Christopher Wood is the head football coach at Har-Ber High School. They seemed to parlay that they had grievances with coach Wood's coaching style. And in an interview with him, he did kind of state that he was quite hard on the whole team, including those who transferred. So I think that kind of guided their hand.

SIMON: As ostensibly an adult, I'm going to ride - kind of read between the lines. When the school district says that your reporting was, quote, "intentionally negative, demeaning, derogatory, hurtful, potentially harmful to the students," can you understand that they have to worry about the welfare of the students, to their mind, more than the accuracy of the article - essentially saying to you, look; you guys are great, but you're not The New York Times. This is a high school newspaper, and these kids have a future ahead of them.

WILLIAMS: Well, whether or not I believe that's justified, I can't really say for sure, but I definitely know that they were keen on placing the welfare of the students above the absolute truth, and I don't really think I agree with that stance.

SIMON: Tell us, if you could, about your faculty adviser, Karla Sprague.

WILLIAMS: Karla Sprague, besides maybe Ms. Schleissman (ph), is my favorite teacher of all time. She cares very much about what she's reporting on, and she kind of pours herself into the objective journalistic work that she herself did in her career. And she tries to instill that upon her students. And I think that's very respectable.

SIMON: This reporting must put her in a difficult position, right?

WILLIAMS: Yes. She's facing allegations of insubordination from the administration. They have alleged that she almost vicariously pushed us to do what we did. And I don't think that's true given the second that Dr. Jared Cleveland, the deputy superintendent of Springdale school system, the second he actually reached out and told us and demanded that she take it down, she went to the staff and said, at this point, I'm going to have to put all of the next decisions in your hands as - I mean, because she has to put food on the table for her family. And she is, of course, employed by the district, so it puts her in a difficult position, though I'm not entirely sure if it's justified.

SIMON: Mr. Williams, you probably don't need me to tell you this, but whatever reverses you face now, you're on the right track.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

SIMON: Jack Williams, junior at Har-Ber High School in Springdale, Ark., I think we'll hear from him again someday.

WILLIAMS: Hopefully.

SIMON: And we reached out to the Springdale school district for comment. They have not responded. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.