Principal restricts distribution of paper to school grounds

VIRGINIA — The Middlesex County School Board has affirmed ahigh school principal’s decision to halt the distribution of the studentnewspaper off school grounds.Principal David Bridges asked the board inAugust to support his decision to stop inserting the Big Blue Review, thestudent newspaper for Middlesex High School, in a local paper. The board upheldthat decision at its Oct. 22 meeting, despite pleas by studentjournalists.The board agreed with Bridges that the student newspapershould not be considered a public forum and made available to the whole community because it is meant to be aneducational tool. Bridges felt that the practice ofinserting the paper into the Southside Sentinel, which has a circulationof 5,500, gave it too broad a circulation beyond the school.FormerPrincipal Rebecca Gates censored the paper twice last year because she said sheconsidered two articles focusing on sex education and newspaper censorship toocontroversial for an audience beyond the school.Superintendent MikeMyers said he supports limiting the newspaper’s distribution. “Itis a class,” said Myers. “It is not a commercial newspaper. Thestudents have the right to work for a commercial newspaper if they so choose todo so.” Editor Palmer Curdts and other staff members believe thatthe Big Blue Review provides the community with an in-depth look at thehigh school community, while providing student journalists with a largeraudience. Students also have expressed a concern that such drastic cuts incirculation could scare away advertisers, which would limit the number of issuesthey could publish per year. “We give the community a much deeperlook at what’s going on at the high school, and we feel that that’sa valuable service,” said Curdts. “We really don’t understandwhat the school board’s objection to that is.”The BigBlue Review has been an insert in the Southside Sentinel since thestudent paper was started in 1999. The superintendent at the time, CharlesLackey, proposed the idea of running the student paper in the local paper tomake it financially feasible as well as to provide a place for students toshowcase their work, said the paper’s adviser, Carl McWhorter.At thattime, said McWhorter, “there was zero financial support from the school.The only way we could financially publish the paper was through advertising, andthe only way to secure enough advertising was to have a widecirculation.”The Middlesex School District now allots $1,000 peryear to the Big Blue Review. McWhorter said that production costs for thepaper total between $9,000 and $10,000 for eight issues each year, which isdefrayed mostly by advertising dollars. John Hardin, editor of the SouthsideSentinel, which had printed the Big Blue Review, said that bylimiting circulation, the school will save about $330 to $340 per issue or about$2,700 for the school year.Hardin said he believes the paper’sadvertising probably will not suffer from the limitedcirculation.“It’s almost like a contribution,” saidHardin. “They’re helping to support the student newspaper,basically. I think that it’s more just to show support.”TheBig Blue Review was forced to hold printing and distribution on the firstissue of the year, due out Oct. 17. McWhorter said he and the staff were notinformed of the administration’s decision until three days before thepaper was to go to press. While they had been made aware that circulation mightbe cut, it was not confirmed by the principal until Oct. 14.According toMcWhorter, the paper was held up a week to enable staff to inform advertisers ofthe change in distribution, from 6,500 to 1,000 copies, and allow them to backout if they wanted. McWhorter said no advertisers have yet backed out, althoughnew advertisers have been more difficult to secure.