Archive for Friday, May 9, 2003

Principal stops publication of paper

May 9, 2003

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— The principal of Oskaloosa High School halted publication Thursday of a story written for the student newspaper that challenged his claim of visiting high school classes daily.

The story reported by senior Lacey Hanson also drew Principal Brad Reed's attention because it called into question changes in work assignments for five teachers at the high school.

A hold will remain on the OHS Insider until Hanson's article can be "fixed" to correct inaccuracies, Reed said.

"There are things that are not true in the article," Reed said. "This is not a big deal."

But Hanson, author of "USD 341 Faces Many Controversial Changes," said the principal's action raised serious First Amendment issues.

"I think it's more than censorship," she said. "They're trying to take over the entire school and control everything."

Hanson, who met Thursday afternoon with Reed, said she would stand by her work. She said Reed told her the original version of the story wouldn't be published, but that a rendering he edited could appear in the Insider.

"I'm not changing my article to satisfy him," Hanson said.

A copy of her draft quoted 10 students, five faculty members, Reed and Supt. Loren Lutes. The high school enrolls 250 students, according to the Kansas State Board of Education.

The version edited by Reed was less than half the original's length, Hanson said.

Hanson said Reed told her a section of the story questioning the principal's statement April 14 that he was in classrooms each day had to be removed. The reference followed quotes from students who were concerned that Reed didn't have their best interests in mind when he reassigned staff, for instance, moving a librarian into a classroom teaching position.

Reed said the article's criticism of him wasn't a factor in the decision to halt publication of the Insider's next issue.

Hanson said Reed also didn't want to include in the article her reference on Kansas student press law. She said she wrote about the statute because she felt pressure from the administration to not cover the topic.

"The changes at Oskaloosa have some people upset," she wrote, "but they are afraid to speak up due to retaliation."

Hanson said the principal objected to a paragraph urging students, faculty and community members to attend Oskaloosa school board meetings to express their views.

She said Reed told her the invitation to speak up in public was an attempt to incite a "riot."

"If it's not bowing down and praising them, they're against it," Hanson said.

Lutes said all content of the newspaper was under review by the district's legal team. There is no regular timetable for publication of the Insider, but a new issue is usually produced each month that school is in session.

"We currently are reviewing the student newspaper before it is released for publication," Lutes said. "We have been reviewing the paper closely."

Reed said the district had a responsibility to monitor the newspaper because it was technically a project of the journalism class.

"It's first and foremost a teaching laboratory," he said. "Just like any piece of the curriculum, when it needs to be worked on or whatever, we do that."

For example, he said Hanson didn't have all her facts straight on the course loads of at least two faculty who were to have their assignments changed.

"We want to make sure ... that the kids are writing accurate stories," Reed said. "This is not an uncommon thing. This goes on in most every high school in the country."

He said some students had reacted "passionately" to the administrative review of the article.

"I'd think it would be unfortunate if it was a big censorship or First Amendment thing."

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