A group of student journalists brought a lawyer with them to this week’s District 202 Board meeting to contest the confiscation by school authorities of a recent issue of the school newspaper, The Evanstonian.

Trinity Collins, a news editor, said the Sept. 22 issue was confiscated by school authorities during the distribution period allegedly because of a series of four articles on marijuana usage, including an interview with a drug dealer.

Purpose of the articles, Collins said, was to determine why so many students smoke marijuana, “not to promote any usage or to encourage any student usage.”

After about an hour after distribution of the issue began, she related, a department chair confiscated undistributed copies.

Margo Livitan online executive editor of The Evanstonian, said “it came as a surprise when our most recent issue was confiscated” because the school…and the community… has always been supportive of free speech and freedom of the press.

Katy Donati, executive editor, told the board that she was disappointed in the lack of explanation the students received for the action.

“We attempted to set up a meeting with one of the administrators,” she declared, “to get an explanation, but no response was given.”

Then Michael Colton, executive editor of The Evanstonian, dropped the legal bombshell on the board, noting that last year, the Illinois General Assembly enacted the Student Free Press Act, that forbids the school administration from censoring a student newspaper unless certain criteria are met, none of which, they contended, was involved in the ETHS incident.

He was followed, during the Public Comment section of the meeting, by a volunteer lawyer, Maryam Judar, executive director, Community Lawyer Citizen Advocacy Center, who spelled out the specifics of the Illinois law that she said was being violated by the ETHS administration.

“The school must be able to show that the action was caused by more than the mere desire to avoid discomfort or unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint or a controversial topic,” she asserted.

“It appears that the action of school authorities,” she continued, “was based upon an urgent wish to avoid a controversy which might result from this expression, and this is unlawful in the State of Illinois.”

In practice, the board does not immediately comment upon statements made during the Public Comment section of the meeting, but when Board President Pat Savage-Williams asked if there was any new business to come before the board, member Jonathan Baum said “I would like us to discuss the confiscation of The Evanstonian at our next board meeting in open session.”

Subsequently, ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon issued the following statement late today:

“On September 22, 2017, the Evanston Township High School (ETHS) student newspaper published a series of articles under the heading The Pot Thickens… The two-page spread features six articles, including 6 Questions for a Drug Dealer and School Stress Causes Marijuana Usage. Both articles promote illegal conduct that also violates school policy. For example, the Drug Dealer article states that a reason to sell marijuana is to make money, as much as one hundred-sixty dollars per ounce. The School Stress article states that using marijuana makes a student funnier and more confident. The article goes on to state that a “feeling of euphoria and bliss” is caused by a chemical in marijuana.

 “Dr. Marcus Campbell, Principal of ETHS, collaborated with the ETHS administrative team and legal counsel in reviewing the published articles. Dr. Campbell determined that the articles glorify both drug use and drug dealing, messages that are detrimental to ETHS students.

“The U.S. Constitution and the Illinois Speech Right of Student Journalists Act both provide student journalists with certain rights to speech that ETHS celebrates. Those rights are limited. When student journalism incites unlawful acts, violation of school policy, or disrupts the school, the administration has the authority to impose limits. The articles on September 22, 2017 did cross these lines and were removed from circulation for that reason.”

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

Join the Conversation


  1. Another section of the law cited by Principal Campbell

    “School officials shall have the burden of showing

    justification without undue delay prior to a limitation of

    student expression under this Act.” 

    A meeting three weeks after the issue in question can hardly be described as in accordance with that clause — the students will have already released another issue of their paper on the date of their meeting.

  2. Radical liberalism abounds at ETHS, Evanston and Illinois

    This doesn’t surprise me. ETHS has become a haven of uber liberal politics. There’s a huge Black Lives Matter poster in one of the classrooms. Believe it or not but Black Lives Matter is a controversial group founded on a big fat lie. 

    There’s a bathroom at the high school for any gender. There is a cub for every victim group imaginable – an LGBT club, hispanic club, people of color club and school programs specifically targeting so called minority students, providing them with additional resources to help their academics – additional resources allegedly not provided to students with the incorrect skin color. ETHS is infested with identity politics.

    So yes, the next frontier for leftists is the legalization of marijuana. Of course, student journalists will interview drug dealers – they’re not hard to find – and write about all the myths of the benefits of pot use. They’re learning very well in such a “progressive” environment. I betcha dollars to donuts ETHS does not have any school program that hammers home the truth about the numerous ill effects of pot and drug abuse. Meanwhile, Democrat politicians such as Daniel Biss who is running for governor have introduced bills to legalize the recreational use of pot.

    Say, did the football team kneel again during the national anthem and did Super Witherspoon give another raised fist speech in the name of racial equity for all?  I hear ETHS does not do the pledge allegiance everyday and when they do most students and teachers do not stand.

    I wonder if there’s a Republican or conservative club or a European descendant club at the high school? How would school admins and students react if one of these clubs were created? The term white privilege would be thrown around as commonly as paper spit balls.

    I understand tonight is homecoming. As long as students have less than 10 grams of pot they likely won’t be arrested thanks to our liberal city leaders who decriminalized marijuana possession.  Light em up kiddoes. Your city and state Democrat leaders are OK with pot. Right?

    1. At least when I went there
      At least when I went there they had the pledge every day. What, are you going to force students to stand for the pledge? It’s their legal right not to, a right that reflects the democratic principles our country was founded upon. I quote from your post, “There is a cub for every victim group imaginable – an LGBT club, hispanic club, people of color club and school programs specifically targeting so called minority students…” Have you no sense of compassion? I bet you call yourself a Christian too. Grow up.

  3. Free Press

    The Brandenburg test for incitement is a very high legal standard (incitement must be intended, likely, and imminent), and it is difficult for any newspaper article to qualify as incitement. That’s particularly true if it’s just a standard news article explaining why people use drugs (feel good) and sell drugs (make money). Illinois has a very strong law for student freedom of the press, and the excuses of Evanston administrators don’t come anywhere close to meeting that legal standard.

    Exactly what is the harm in allowing a student newspaper to report about drugs? Were students unaware that drug dealers make money? The principal has many better options other than censorship. She can express her own views about drugs and ask the newspaper to report on them. Censorship is bad for journalism, and bad for education.

    1. Higher Court Rulings on School Free Press

      Link and excerpt from :


      Violations of Free Press

      The Supreme Court has held that schools and school administrators can censor student publications such as student newspapers. The difference between the tolerance of expression, as in Tinker, and in promotion of student views, is the key. By wearing an arm band, a student is expressing his view and the school is not taking a stand, nor endorsing the student. But in a student newspaper, the school itself is represented in the newspaper, and by publishing a student piece, is now no longer a passive observer but an active participant. In Hazelwood School v Kuhlmeier (484 US 260 [1988]), the Supreme Court ruled that articles in the school paper that were counter to the educational mission of the school were subject to censorship.

      Though untested in court, it is probably true that students are protected in publication of “underground” newspapers, and perhaps web pages, but the distribution of those papers or use of school computers to view web pages could be restricted.

      1. Yes, but …

        The state legislature last year passed, and Gov. Rauner signed, a law that gives students in public schools in Illinois more expansive free speech protections than required by the U.S. Supreme Court.

        See: http://www.splc.org/article/2016/07/illinois-new-voices-bill-signed

        “Students in public high schools will now have a legally protected right to choose what content will be part of their publications, even those produced for credit as part of a class. The law does not restrict a school from removing material that is libelous, obscene, invasive of privacy, or likely to provoke disruptive or unlawful behavior. However, the law places the burden on school administrators for demonstrating, without undue delay, that speech fits within one of the unprotected categories before it may be restrained.”

        — Bill

        1. Yes, but……

          When is the last time tou have seen state law override sederal law. There have been several free press cases and the highschool student newpapers have lost every time. I’m surprised the ETHS Admininstration because the history of the school, with the socialist/progressive education, it appears that anything goes. I guess that the Admininstration feel that their students have finally crossed the line. I agree with them. Time to get the circus under control.

          1. Federal Law is the Minimum Standard….

            Federal law (aka Supreme Court precedent) sets the minimum constitutional standard.  States can impose standards that exceed that minimum, if they choose to.  For instance there are federal minimum standards for car emissions.  California said that was not good enough, so imposed within California a higher emissions standard.  That is constitutional.

            In this case, it seems the SCOTUS says that it’s constitutional for school newspapers to be censored to a certain extent by the school administration.  Illinois chose to raise the standard ABOVE what the SCOTUS said was acceptable. Which is fine.  If Illinois had chose to pass a law saying school administration can censor ALL speech in the newspaper, that would go below the SCOTUS standard, and therefore be unconstitutional.

            So, ETHS under state law has the burden to prove they were justified.  Also, if you look at this issue from a high level (pun intended), the school administration was probably better off not doing anything because now the issue is highlighted whereas if they had let it pass probably nothing would have stemmed from the articles.  

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *