James Bowie High School Newspaper Adviser Michael Reeves shares his experience regarding the Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier decision, which occured on January 29th, 1988 and now marks Student Press Freedom Day.
In 1988 I was the Editor-in-Chief of the Ukiahilite in Ukiah, CA. It was my senior year and through my adviser and my father, who happened to be the publisher of the local newspaper, The Ukiah Daily Journal, I knew that there was a court case that was going to be heard by the SCOTUS regarding student scholastic press rights. We knew that Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier might impact the publication of our high school paper.
Between my father Thomas Reeves, my adviser Pat Wilson and I, we discussed plans if there was a negative decision made and there was any efforts on the part of the principal of Ukiah High School to censor the publication what the response would be. The school district had recently hired a new principal, who had been a principal at a middle school in another part of California. There were rumors that he was not a fan of the press, some sources indicated that he had run afoul of the local press at his old school, and had left under questionable circumstances before being hired by the USD. There were some questions about why he was even hired, but those were secondary to the newspaper’s potential problems.
When we learned the results of the Hazelwood case, the next day I met with the principal and my father. We informed him that we would not tolerate any censorship, and that if there was any attempt to even step foot in the journalism room, that we would resort to taking the paper underground. We kept the adviser out of the discussion because we knew as an employee of the school, he might be risking his job to be involved.
As the publisher of the local paper, my father pledged to provide the necessary equipment, darkroom, paste-up tables, etc. so that the student staff of the Ukiahilite could produce the paper off site. He also agreed to print the paper at cost, so the local community would be able to support the paper with advertising that would cover all expenses. The paper could then be printed off site and distributed both on and off campus to students free of charge and as a non-campus publication, similar to the Daily Journal or any other media production.
The principal was not extremely informed about Hazelwood, and he didn’t like the threats, but in the end there was an agreement reached. He never did attempt to censor the paper during my final year on campus. The ‘Hilite was a nationally recognized publication that won multiple best-in-show awards from the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association, as well as Columbia Scholastic Press Association and the American Scholastic Press Association. We won multiple awards every year from the California Scholastic Press Association and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat area awards.
Ironically, the following year, after I had graduated, the adviser Pat Wilson, was removed from that position in the middle of the year, shortly after the publication of the Ukiahilite that was critical of an administrative decision. I had left town to attend a local community college, Santa Rosa Junior College, where I worked on the newspaper staff of the Oak Leaf, an award-winning collegiate publication.
Led by my father, who was still the publisher at the Daily Journal, there was a public outcry over the removal. Eventually his position was reinstated and he was allowed to continue as the adviser of the ‘Hilite. Eventually, though, Pat moved on to teach history at a smaller area high school. That year, 1989, Pat Wilson was name the California High School Journalism Adviser of the Year. I attended the awards ceremony and was able to celebrate his achievements as one of the best high school journalism teachers in the country.
I consider Pat my mentor and I still advise the publication here at James Bowie High School, in Austin, using many of the methods and approaches he used with us 30+ years ago. We communicate on a regular basis and he is always complementary of the publications my students put out and my role as their adviser. He never says it, but I think he is proud of where I am as a teacher and adviser and there is a sense of pride that he was the person that changed my life through high school journalism. He is why I am where I am and doing what I do.