Palmer Ridge High School, in Monument, Colorado, is celebrating “Free Speech Week.” What could be more American, right? Free speech, freedom of the press, First Amendment, hell YES! But apparently some Donald Trump fans don’t think that free speech rights should extend to high school students — specifically to high school student newspapers.
Last week the editorial board of Palmer Ridge’s student-run newspaper, The Bear Truth, joined the editorial boards of a growing number of newspapers around the country and endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. That simple act of free speech set off a firestorm among Trump supporters in the community and even around the country.
The school is in a red area of purple Colorado. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, nearly three-fourths of area residents voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. And this year the student population of the high school favors Trump over Clinton by 47 to 36 percent, according to a poll the newspaper printed in the same edition as their Clinton endorsement.
Instead of being proud that students were exercising their free speech right in one of the most important ways possible, by offering an unpopular opinion, many parents and others have been screaming for the students responsible for the editorial to face consequences, including being suspended from school.
According to the newspaper’s faculty advisor, Tom Patrick, critics on social media have called him a “socialist” and a “communist.” Some said that he was “indoctrinating” students, and there have been calls for him to be fired. Remember, conservatives, including Trump, insist that “political correctness” is killing our country. But political correctness is exactly what these people are demanding.
Senior Evan Ochsner, who is co-editor-in-chief of the paper, says that the editorial board was unprepared for the hate that was thrown at them. He told the Gazette,
“Some of the stuff we’ve seen on Facebook is quite disgusting. There were a lot of personal attacks that seemed out of bounds. It almost borders on bullying.”
Wait. Trump supporters are bullies? Who could have imagined?
As you might suspect, the reaction from the student body was mixed. One parent, Tara Cullen, told the Gazette her son came home very upset. Cullen said the students felt like the paper was speaking for all of them. A strange opinion, considering the paper is produced for student consumption, not for the wider community. Some students apparently crumpled up the issue and threw it on the ground.
Another parent, Lorri Halenkamp, wrote on the paper’s website,
“I am in complete and utter disgust at this blatant attempt to sway the minds of impressionable young voters.”
That’s an interesting opinion, considering she is talking about students who are supposedly learning how to process and evaluate information to make value judgments on it.
There was also plenty of support for the students, including from the school district. Thanks to the controversy, the high school sent all parents an email, pointing out that the editorial board of the paper is composed of nine students, and that the opinions expressed were theirs alone.
Some parents want the school board to take up the issue at their next meeting. But that appears unlikely to happen. School board president Mark Pfoff said,
“There’s no chance of disciplinary action. There is nothing on our agenda, nor do we plan on having any discussion about it.”
This may be an instance of students teaching the community a lesson about free speech. Free speech is easy when you say things most people agree with. It’s much harder when you take an unpopular stance, but also much more important.
Featured image via Theo Stroomer/Getty Images/The Bear Truth