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Student speech should be free

Leto High School principal, Daniel Bonilla, forgot the sanctity of the First Amendment when he suspended the school newspaper’s student editor-in-chief, Brian Leon, Sept. 12.

Leon was guilty of publishing an ad in the school paper, the Leto Legend, stating his Web page’s address which provided a link to a story he’d written regarding teachers’ past criminal records. Bonilla had told Leon he couldn’t publish the story in the paper.

The fact that Leon not only didn’t publish the article, but that he also paid for the ad with his own money, should have earned the editor a commendation from the school, not a suspension. Leon showed restraint by not publishing the article, and Bonilla should not have had the autonomy to make editorial decisions. The article mentioned one teacher who had been arrested three years prior for domestic violence, but Leon did not mention the teacher’s name or gender.

Leon demonstrated the maturity required of a student journalist in interviewing the teacher in question and showed great discretion in keeping it anonymous. For Bonilla to censor the story is a ridiculous show of force by the principal.

Student-run publications are always a danger for schools, colleges and universities. The right of free speech quickly gets blurred by the instinct of school officials to protect their faculty, staff and authority. However, for student journalists to grow into professionals, they must be allowed to make mistakes, while maintaining journalistic integrity, and learn from their screw-ups.

Bonilla should keep in mind the necessity of teenagers to have the freedom to express their opinions and their views. Censorship, especially when it is this banal, should not be tolerated. Leon made the right decision, first in writing the article, then in following the principal’s instructions and in making sure the information he had discovered was shared. His Web site is not under the jurisdiction of the school, and he should not have been punished. Maybe The Tampa Tribune will give him a job.