WASHINGTON, D.C. — Although their school newspaper isstill young, student journalists at Eastern Senior High Schoolare becoming familiar with the ins and outs of high school reporting– the painstaking research, the breaking stories, the sometimesoverbearing administrators.
Principal Jerome Shelton threatened to hold up publicationof the March/April issue of The Rambler, including front-pagestories on two students who were fatally shot, because he saidhe did not have an opportunity to review the contents of the paperbefore it went to press.
Newspaper adviser Anna Kinsman said she had already delivereda disk containing the Rambler issue to the printers whenShelton told her on March 21 that it could not run without hisapproval. After speaking with Shelton, Kinsman said she calledthe printers at the Washington Post’s Young JournalistDevelopment Project and told them to hold publication of the issue.
Kinsman claimed Shelton objected to the shootings stories becausethey cast the school in a negative light. The stories, which appearedunder the collective headline "Eastern Mourns Loss of TwoYouths to Violence," were brief testimonials in which friendsand teachers eulogized the two deceased sophomores.
"I told him this is not a [public relations] sheet forthe principal," Kinsman said, "this is a student paperand they’re grieving and they have a right to acknowledge theloss of their classmates."
Kinsman, who has been teaching for 15 years and has advisedtwo other school papers before starting at Eastern this year,said that Shelton previously told her The Ramblershould run articles that "sell the school." Sheltondeclined to comment on whether or not he made that remark.
"I reserve the right to review the paper," Sheltonsaid, adding that he feels his role as principal is to determinethe direction and focus of the newspaper.
Shelton said that after he met with journalism students on March 21, he found no problem with the issue of The Rambler, which “included some very good stories.” The issue was subsequently published with slight layout changes and distributed at Eastern on March 25, a school receptionist said.
Of his meeting with the students, Shelton said he explainedhis desire to review the paper and he felt that they "understoodwhere [he] was coming from."
Although Shelton at first invited the SPLC to take part inthe meeting, he later said students at Eastern did not want outsidemedia present.
The Rambler is one of 17 high school newspapers in theWashington metropolitan area that receive assistance from theWashington Post‘s Young Journalists Development Project.
Athelia Knight, assistant director of the project, said thatthe form of assistance varies from school to school. Since TheRambler‘s inception three years ago, project volunteers havehelped students at Eastern work on stories and the project hascovered printing costs, since the school district does not provideThe Rambler with a budget allocation.
About the prior review misunderstanding between Kinsman andShelton, Knight said, "This is not anything that hasn’t happenedbefore with schools, it happens nationally all the time."