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Former Johnston school board member earns two awards

Tood Erzen
The Des Moines Register
Des Moines, Iowa

December 14, 2010


A controversial change to Johnston school district policy has garnered recognition from two student journalism organizations for former school board member Tyler Buller.

Buller, who was the editor of the Johnston High School student newspaper in 2006 and is now a law student at the University of Iowa, served a one-year term on the school board. He led the charge in 2009 to add policy language concerning students' freedom of expression.

Changes brought to that policy - by way of a 4-3 vote - were meant to prevent the indirect censorship of students who otherwise might feel compelled to protect teachers from controversy instead of exercising their First Amendment rights.

Buller said he was compelled to act in 2009 because "a lot of times high school kids have a hard time being taken seriously."But 17 months later, with Buller gone and three new board members in place, the policy reverted to the original language on a vote during an ongoing review of the district's entire policy manual.

Both the Iowa High School Press Association and the Journalism Education Association, a national organization, supported Buller this fall by presenting him with awards.

"Tyler understands the importance of high school journalism's role in education," said Dave Schwartz, the executive director of the state group. "He went, I wouldn't say just the extra step, but I would say 15 extra steps to keep scholastic journalism safe for students."

He added that "high school journalism kind of reflects what our country is all about. ... That's why it is so unfortunate when people try to put barriers between students and their free speech."

Current school board President Tracey Orman voted in opposition to the policy change in 2009 and supported its reversal in September.

She cited the opinion of an attorney who told the board before the 2009 vote that Iowa law is not lacking in protections for teachers. There also have been no actual student complaints concerning journalistic freedom of expression in recent memory, Superintendent Clay Guthmiller said.

"The students still have free speech," Orman said. "They always did. That's regulated by the Code of Iowa and we can't take that from them."

Copyright 2010, The Des Moines Register. Reprinted with permission

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