Monday, June 18, 2007

Saga in Everett School District continues; WJEA president weighs in

The Everett School District is putting together quite an unenviable track record of trying to squelch student free expression rights.

It began last year with the mess at Everett High School, in which the school board backed a principal who required prior review, resulting in two students suing the district and the adviser being "reassigned." It has continued this year with the students at Cascade High School taking their newspaper underground -- as the students at Everett did -- in an effort to retain control over their publication, and resulted in a student and teacher being suspended for working on The Free Stehekin on school computers.

All because the administrators in the Everett School District insist on prior review of student publications.

In a letter to the editor published yesterday in the Everett Herald, WJEA President Kathy Schrier fired back:

Those of us involved in scholastic journalism are shaking our heads at the fallout from this flawed policy: two good teachers whose careers have been impacted, two former student editors who are suing the school district, and now a top student suspended for 10 days. Why? Because the Everett School District does not believe that students should control the content of their student publications. ...

When student newspapers are forced underground, students must learn by the seat of their pants - rather than in a classroom setting - how to use their voices in published works. This removes a tremendous opportunity for learning and exploring best practices under the guidance of a certificated teacher/adviser. ...

I propose that scrapping the policy would be a bold, educationally sound move for the Everett School Board. It would show a commitment to making Everett schools places where democratic principles are modeled, critical thinking is encouraged, and where students don't relinquish their rights at the schoolhouse gate.

This piggybacks on what the Herald said in its own editorial earlier last week.

The Everett School District shouldn't worry about a troublesome article showing up in a student newspaper. Its own actions have become embarrassing enough. ...

The suspensions are the latest chapter in a tale of administrative overreaction. ... (T)he district faces a federal trial, a hard-working student and a respected teacher are suspended, and journalism students don't have access to school equipment to publish campus newspapers, all because a misguided policy is being enforced. ...

Educators overseeing student publications are there to teach journalism. Students learn by engaging in the entire publishing process, including the chance to deal with the repercussions of printing controversial material.

The district's current policy has created problems rather than preventing them, and has fostered a hostile environment for student journalism. Enough damage has been done. The school board needs to abandon its policy of prior review.

The part that makes me laugh the most -- or maybe cry? -- is that Whittemore was suspended for 10 days because of a policy that "prohibits students from using school funds to create an unsanctioned publication."

Which makes me wonder.

Are they suspending every student who is using "school funds" -- computers, printers, telephones, etc. -- to create unsanctioned work at school? Or just those "dangerous" students producing newspapers?

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