A controversy over a Colorado high school newspaper has settled — at least for now it seems.
As iMediaEthics wrote last month, reports surfaced that Overland High School’s newspaper, the Overland Scout, was being closed after the principal had issues with a student-written story on a fellow student’s death. School principal Leon Lundie read the story in advance of publication because he had established prior review of the newspaper earlier in the year. (See iMediaEthics’ earlier story on this issue here.)
The story included the dead student’s mother’s memories of her son, and briefly addressed the student’s cause of death — which suggested a level of responsibility to the school.
Principal Lundie has issued a statement apologizing for miscommunication and claiming that he never said the newspaper was being shut down. Lundie also said in his statement, which is published on the SPLC’s website (see here), that his issues with the student death story was that it only had one source.
“I suggested they interview additional sources to give the story balance. I did not tell the students they could not publish the story as originally written,” Lundie said in a statement.
Lundie, who also announced he was ending prior review of the newspaper in his statement, claims that he never said “they could not publish the newspapers,” just that he didn’t know if they would be able to “produce additional issues” by the end of the school year.
According to Lundie, there have only been three issues of the Overland Scout this year. “The students said they agreed that I had not ordered the newspaper shut down, but said they thought I had told them there could be no more issues for the remainder of the current school year other than the planned senior edition.”
He defended possibly changing the newspaper class by saying the school wants to “ensure that students are receiving the most relevant education for 21st century journalism.”
Regarding the newspaper’s closing, Lundie stated: “It is unfortunate that my statements were misunderstood. I agree that I probably could have communicated better and I take personal responsibility for that.”
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In a report on its website, Student Press Law Center, which has been following and consulting on this case, noted that “What will happen to the newspaper next year is still unclear,” and that the newspaper adviser’s Laura Sudik was “reinstated.”
SPLC’s Adam Goldstein called the moves announced in the statement “a good first step.”
“It’s not a total resolution yet – they still don’t know what will happen over the summer and next year. We have time between now and the beginning of next year to make sure that whatever happens to the publication meets the needs of the school while protecting the rights of the students.”
The Denver Post reported that the principal and school district spokesperson Tustin Amole didn’t comment about what will happen to the newspaper or its adviser next year. Sudik reportedly said “she had been told she could continue working at the school next year, but would not manage the newspaper class.”
As to the possibility that the rumored changes to the newspaper program will happen at the close of the school year instead of immediately, Goldstein noted: “firing the adviser in May for what the students wrote isn’t more permissible than it is in March. We still need assurances that this program will still exist as vibrant as it ever has.”
Goldstein commented that students clearly thought Sudik was fired. “It’s very clear that this was not something from the students’ imagination. At a very minimum, it was a miscommunication between two district employees that was conveyed to the students.”
The Society of Professional Journalists’s Colorado chapter also joined in on the controversy by sending the school board and the district’s superintendent a letter of its “deep concern” about the controversy (see here).