School paper folds following controverial column fallout

CALIFORNIA — A high school newspaper that took heat for a column it printed last school year opposing illegal immigration has been cancelled because not enough students signed up for the class.

The student newspaper of Novato High School, The Buzz, created just that after opinion editor Andrew Smith blasted illegal immigrants in an editorial he wrote about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The piece resulted in a 150-student protest and a written apology from the principal and superintendent. Smith is said to have received death threats.

According to Novato Unified School District spokesperson Dianne Pavia, the cause for the newspaper class cancellation was “very low student interest,” and was unrelated to the events of last year. Pavia was unwilling to speculate how many students would have had to enroll to keep the paper running.

“Most classes have at least 25 kids,” said Pavia. She said that she thought fewer than 10 had signed up for the newspaper this year.

The paper’s adviser stepped down last spring, a move that was said to have nothing to do with the controversy. Novato Principal Lisa Schwartz, who made an emotional public apology to students and parents for allowing Smith’s article be published, also has moved on, returning to a post within the district as a program manager in the Marin County Office of Education. According to Pavia, Swartz’s stint at Novato was a short-term arrangement all along; her decision to leave Novato also had nothing to do with last year’s incident.

Pavia said that the paper has not been eliminated altogether, it could be revived should student interest redevelop.

Last March, student editors Stella Robertson and Ruth Osorio were honored by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for their struggles to get the paper to print after school administrators had begun performing prior review. Robertson and Osorio were given the James Madison Freedom of Information Award.

Smith has sued the school to force publication of a second editorial he wrote called “Reverse Racism.” The Buzz eventually ran the editorial in the spring, but the lawsuit is still pending.