Stink of censorship threatens to knock out story about dirty school bathrooms

NEW YORK — The staff of the Francis Lewis High School student newspaperthought the bathrooms at their school stunk.

Students were upset by restrictive policies on student bathroom use,such as the “10-minute rule,” which called for bathrooms to be locked thefirst and last 10 minutes of class and a ban on more than two bathrooms– one for each sex — being open at the same time. At the 4,000-studentschool, that meant there was one bathroom for every 2,000 students.

Student reporters decided to monitor the conditions of the bathrooms,which they described as “filthy” and lacking toilet paper and soap, andthey consulted a urologist to discover the effects that restrictions onbathroom use could have on students’ bodies.

In the end, they thought they had a good story.

There was only one problem: the administration would not let them runit.

Matthew Chayes, editor of The Patriot, said he submitted thearticle to school administrators for review in October, at which time hesaid he was told to change the tone of the story or it would not be printedin the newspaper.

Chayes said principal Catherine Kalina told him the article was one-sided,unfair and unbalanced. Kalina also disputed the credibility of the sourcesand demanded they write letters to her stating their positions on the issue,Chayes said.

In an attempt to reach an agreement, Chayes, who disagreed with thechanges, suggested bringing in a third party for mediation — an idea thathe said was quickly thrown out.

“I thought having a third party present, someone who is not affectedby the article, was a good idea,” Chayes said. “If the article is aboutyou, you can’t be objective. I’m not expecting [Kalina] to be because that’shumanly impossible. I’m just asking her to recognize that she can’t beobjective.”

Chayes said administrators not only threatened not to publish the article,but also threatened to remove him from his staff position and put negativeletters of recommendation in his file.

Kalina did not return numerous calls made to her office by the Report.

After being told by administrators a second time to make changes tothe article, Chayes finally did. He said he removed a quote in which Kalinasaid if there was not any tissue paper in the bathroom, the students shouldbring their own.

In spite of administrators’ attempts to “knit-pick everything,” Chayessaid that in the end only insignificant changes were made to the article.

“My goal in reporting was to tell both sides of the story,” Chayes said.”I was not trying to show favor to either. The students don’t get to reviewthe article and make changes, so why should the other side? That doesn’tmake for a very fair story.”Despite the problems Chayes faced with administrators over the article,he said at least one good thing came out of it: the school opened morebathrooms to the students.

But this proved to be a bittersweet victory for newspaper staff membersbecause they continue to struggle with an administration they say exerts”too much control.”

Their complaints stem from several instances where they say administratorsordered them to remove certain comments from news articles.

According to Chayes, the problems started two years ago when administratorsrefused to allow the newspaper to publish a story about a student’s Website, which included a “Most Hated Teachers” list. In addition, Chayessaid the newspaper staff attempted to print a letter written by a fellowstudent critical of the ROTC program but was not permitted to do so.Other articles were printed with minor changes, Chayes said.

Kalina, along with other administrators, is allowed to review the newspaperbefore publication and has final say on the content, according to the boardof education policy. But Chayes believes administrators are exercisingtoo much control.

Chayes accused Kalina of trying to censor anything that criticizes theschool or its administrators.

“They don’t like what we write because never before had [the newspaper]written anything that wasn’t a total [public relations] story,” Chayessaid. “If you want a PR story, hire a PR person.”