Online newspaper in Pa. blocked from school computers

PENNSYLVANIA — Typically, any press is good press foremerging Internet-based projects. For the Carbon County Vocational-TechnicalHigh School students behind an online newspaper, however, increasedmedia attention has led to problems with the school’s administration.

Principal Paul Caputo recently blocked school computers fromaccessing, home of students James Curry and ConradFlynn’s muckraker The Babbitt. The online news site haspublished several articles criticizing various aspects of theschool.

"I just felt the language and the content wasn’t appropriatefor school viewing," Caputo told The Morning Callof Allentown, Pa. "I just felt I had no choice. They weren’tresponding to my requests to be fair and balanced and accurate."

The most recent controversy stems from a Babbitt articleabout English teacher Judy Fisher posted last fall. The piecedetailed, in provocative and, at times, heavily rhetorical terms,a disciplinary committee episode involving Curry, Caputo and Fisher.Several local newspaper and television stations have done storieson The Babbitt recently, some of them mentioning specificallegations the student journalists had made in the article.

According to The Babbitt article, Fisher lied aboutthe details of an argument with Curry when referring him to thedisciplinary committee. Flynn and two witnesses unaffiliated withthe paper supported Curry’s version of the events to Caputo, thearticle goes on, but the principal sided with the teacher. Thedisciplinary committee’s recommended three-day in-school suspensionwas later overturned, according to the article, when the school’sadministrative director Lyle Augustine interviewed several witnesseswho confirmed Curry’s account.

Complicating things further, reports by The Morning Calland a local television station described what had caused the student-teacherargument: Fisher’s alleged in-class use of the phrase "vo-techstyle" to refer to a simplified version of what she was presenting.Flynn said the teacher is infuriated that the accusations weremade public.

"Mrs. Fisher’s claim is that what she saw on TV made herphysically ill," Flynn said.

Flynn was moved out of Fisher’s advanced English class on Jan.28. Curry and Babbitt writer Katherine Marks had transferredpreviously.

Flynn said Caputo told him the paper was "disruptive"and that he would continue to monitor the situation, althoughit did not require any disciplinary action.

Flynn said he thinks the principal is angry because studentshave complained about the contents of the paper to him. The newestversion of the paper features an article that accuses membersof Students Against Destructive Decisions of smoking cigaretteson a recent field trip.

"[Caputo] wanted to see me because students were in therecomplaining," Flynn said. "Yeah, that may be a wasteof his time but if those students want to go to complain to him,that’s not a reflection on me."

Neither Caputo nor Fisher returned phone calls placed to their offices.

The Babbitt was created by Curry and Flynn in May 2000.From June until August of 2000, the paper suspended operationsdue to threats of legal action from Charles McHugh, dean of studentsat Panther Valley High School, which Curry, Flynn and Marks thenattended. The paper reappeared online in fall 2001.

Visit The Babbitt online.