Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa say three Atlantic High School seniors will share the Robert Mannheimer Student Advocacy Award, for taking a courageous stand, editorializing logically and eloquently in the on-line student newspaper about the district’s lack of transparency after an Atlantic teacher tweeted an inappropriate photo of a hand over a breast.
2014 Mannheimer winners
Allison Berryhill, A-H-S English Teacher and Journalism Advisor, nominated Meghan Plambeck, Lillie Zablocki, and Sierra Smith for the award. The trio, who write for the Atlantic school’s online newspaper, the AHSNeedle.com, “Were called on to use their writing skill and thinking power to research and write an editorial about a tense situation” in the school district,” according to Berryhill, who said “The topic was a volatile one: A questionable Tweet had been posted from a beloved teacher’s account. The students and community wanted explanation. The administration was tight-lipped.”
The ACLU says the students rightly called out the administration, saying that it was holding students and teachers to different standards in sharing and using questionable social media. In a jointly authored editorial last September, they wrote, “It is important that authorities maintain transparency in how they are addressing the situation, especially in a case where the issue is widespread public knowledge.”
Berryhill said in her nomination that “the maturity of the writing and clarity of purpose resulted in an editorial that was praised by the community, including teachers and even school board members. As local and state news outlets picked up the story, the district superintendent ultimately provided the community with at least acknowledgement of the situation and assurance that the matter had been addressed.”
A copy of the student’s editorial can be found by going to www.aclu-ia.org. ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Ben Stone said he was pleased that the award recognizes three young journalists upholding basic First Amendment principles of free speech and expression. The ability to question authority is a cornerstone of democracy. Stone said it’s especially appropriate that the ACLU of Iowa give the award to students since it has a long history of defending student First Amendment rights, including the landmark “black armband” case of Tinker v. the Des Moines Schools in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The three students will be formally named the winners of the Mannheimer Award at the ACLU of Iowa’s annual dinner in Iowa City on Saturday, May 3.