National group says administrator’s confiscation of student journalists’ cameras ‘has no place in an American public school’

Associate principal Brock Wenciker speaking with student protesters April 20. He removed cameras from student journalists trying to document the unauthorized gathering.

A Shawnee Mission North administrator’s move to confiscate the cameras of student journalists trying to document an unauthorized protest on school grounds has caught the attention of The Student Press Law Center, a national group that works to protect student press rights.

The Kansas Scholastic Press Association had already commented on associate principal Brock Wenciker’s move to take cameras away from student journalists at SM North, saying they believed it represented a violation of the Kansas Student Publications Act.

Now, the Student Press Law Center based in Washington, D.C., has weighed in on the situation as well, saying that laws like the Kansas Student Publications Act exist precisely to protect student journalists’ rights to collect information, even if it is controversial.

“The law exists to protect student journalists while they are engaged in doing the work of journalism — which is EXACTLY what they were doing when their cameras were confiscated,” said Student Press Law Center senior legal consultant Mike Hiestand. “Allowing government officials to confiscate the cameras of members of the press when they’re recording news you don’t want them to record has no place in an American public school. What a civics lesson.”

To date, the district has not announced what, if any, actions it will take to address concerns about potential violations of students’ rights during the National Student Walkout demonstrations — though it did say no students are facing discipline as a result of the incidents. The ACLU of Kansas has threatened legal action against the district if it does not take steps to address issues that emerged at Hocker Grove, SM North and SM East.

The district has called a special meeting of the board of education for tonight at 6 p.m., during which leaders will give an update on the investigations into the National School Walkout issues.

Hiestand said the Student Press Law Center hopes the district will acknowledge student journalists’ have the right to report even when they’re not in journalism class.

“Arguing that a student journalist is only protected by the student publication act while they are in class has zero basis in the law itself,” he said. “Last I checked, not a lot of news takes place within the four corners of a journalism classroom.”

The Student Press Law Center has drawn attention to the situation with an article on its website following the April 20 incident.