A high school paper, The Herald, in Arkansas investigated the transfer of five football players to a rival high school which resulted in the district shutting down the paper and the advisor threatened with being fired.
After the players transferred to a nearby high school in the middle of the school year in late 2017, students from Harber High School decided to investigate.
Although parents signed letters saying their sons transferred for academic reasons, The Herald conducted interviews in which two players admitted to transferring to play football.
In a place like Springdale, Arkansas, a small town, Friday night lights means the whole city is watching football.
This raised questions with district officials who refused to comment and demanded the article be removed from the website. The principal requested to see the article before it went to print, but the advisor refused which lead to a threat of termination.
The article that was published questioned the legitimacy of the district approving these transfers.
The Freedom of Speech and The Freedom of the Press as well as Arkansas state laws protect the rights of student publications. Public schools don’t face the same restrictions as private schools and districts aren’t allowed to censor what the paper publishes.
The editor-in-chief, Halle Roberts, came forward to the press saying that the district was violating her and her classmate’s freedom of speech. The Student Press Law Center agreed with her claims.
The article itself revealed the corruption of the sports programs at the two high schools, but it did much more than that: it revealed the corruption of the whole school system.
High school is supposed to prepare students for the real world and it’s supposed to help students find their voice. By stifling these students and disproving and trying to discredit the investigation they worked hard to complete so they wouldn’t be reporting fake news, this high school did the opposite of what it’s supposed to.
For high school journalists, finding breaking news is rare. When this kind of story comes along, the writers should be pushed to dig deeper and find out more, not shamed and scolded by their superiors.
What once started as a local story from an understaffed, small school in a tiny town, turned into a scandal heard throughout the nation.
The story of the crooked school district and principal have made national news through sources like Buzzfeed and Barstool Sports. Large press organizations recognize the bravery this staff had and that in the face of adversity, they chose the truth.