Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The School Newspaper: Upsides and Downsides...

Overland High School
Officials at an Aurora, Colo. high school are scrambling to explain away the controversy over the principal's decision to shutter the school newspaper and yank the faculty advisor from the program.
How's that for an opening line to a post.  Sensationalistic perhaps, but it catches the eye.  I was originally unsure of what to post today as there haven't been any prominent instances of book banning or challenges that have popped up on my feeds as of late.  But then this showed up in my search bar this morning.  Apparently a school newspaper is being shut down (whether due to a difference of opinions or a budget issue, it really depends on who you ask.)  The principal, Leon Lundie, decided that the newspaper was printing articles that were too far beyond their abilities as a high school publication.  So he has apparently decided to shut down the newspaper and get rid of the faculty supervisor:
...students say that Principal Leon Lundie told them their faculty advisor would be removed because of the story, and Carrie Faust, president of the Colorado High School Press Association, confirmed with today that Sudik has not been reinstated as journalism advisor. And despite assuring reporters that there's nothing going on at the school, the district hasn't contacted the students - who are on Spring Break - with any updates about the fate of The Scout.
The article that reported the instance first delves into the legal difficulties associated with the decision that Principal Lundie made regarding the fate of The Scout.
...Principal Leon Lundie of Overland High School in Aurora, Colo, may have picked the wrong students to intimidate. The students behind The Overland Scout have enlisted the ACLU and the Student Press Law Center to come to their defense. You can help add pressure by signing this petition, which will send an email to Principal Lundie telling him that censoring student journalism isn't just unethical - it's against the law.
But Principal Lundie blatantly disregarded the law in an attempt to silence a benign story the students reported about a fellow student who died as a result of an injury during a wrestling tournament, students say. Even though the students backed up the story with interviews and research - and even provided Lundie with the student's death certificate - he reportedly told them that the story lacked balance and couldn't be printed.
In an effort to remain as balanced as possible (though I think if any part of the story is true and that the newspaper is being shut down because of administrative bureaucracy, then it's a problem) I searched for news from a different, less student-centred perspective, and came across another article from the Aurora Sentinel.  Apparently, according to Lundie, the whole thing is being blown out of proportion and the operation is due for overhall next year anyway.
Lundie and district officials have said that next year’s journalism class will change to fit the program at schools like the University of Colorado, with an added emphasis on online journalism, blogs and newer technology. It’s unclear whether Sudik [current faculty sponsor] will be a part of the overhauled program, an uncertainty that’s drawn criticism from some corners.
But that doesn't explain everything.  Why would the students get so involved in a non-existent cause?  Well, whether or not the newspaper would get shut down, they had cause for concern when the principal decided he wanted prior review of all articles before publication.  And Lundie has backed off for now:
“Although district policy and Colorado state law allow for prior review to ensure articles do not violate laws governing others rights to privacy, are not libelous or offensive with regard to race, color, age, religion, etc., I have agreed that I will not ask to see articles prior to publication,” Lundie wrote. “The newspaper class will continue in its current format for the remainder of the year with their sponsor.”
This isn't enough for the attorney from the ACLU, though.  According to him, there are still problems with the arguments being put forward by the school and school district, and that the principal was still in the wrong for threatening anything against the student newspaper to begin with.
“Firing the adviser in May for what the students wrote isn’t more permissible than it is in March,” said Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, in a statement from the SPLC. Goldstein attended the Monday meeting through a conference call. “We still need assurances that this program will still exist as vibrant as it ever has,” he added in the statement.
What do you think of this situation?  Regardless of the laws of Colorado state regarding freedom of speech, etc., do you think the reaction by the principal or the students was justified?  Should students be allowed to write what they want in school newspapers without administrative or faculty interference?

Thanks for listening.

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