Fla. adviser is taken off paper after articles sparked controversy

FLORIDA — The student newspaper at Gaither High School in Tampawill have a new adviser this school year after the previous teacher was relievedof her duties for not agreeing to the administration’s plans for prior review.The move comes after the award-winning Pony Express caused controversy inApril with a critical article of the softball coach. Sharon Davenportsaid administrators removed her from her adviser position because they told herthey wanted to take the paper in a different direction. “Iabsolutely believe I did nothing wrong,” Davenport said of her dismissalfrom her adviser role. The veteran educator and first-year journalismadviser said she will be teaching two freshmen English courses this fall,compared to sophomore-level English courses she taught in previous years.Davenport said that she heard through Brenda Grasso, assistant principalfor curriculum, that administrators were upset or disapproved of the topics thepaper was covering. Over the course of the last school year, the PonyExpress published articles about a student who said he had a visitation fromGod during homeroom and two Gaither students who were arrested for making bombthreats against the school. Davenport said Principal Ken Adum had neverinstituted prior review or censored articles the paper published.Thatchanged in April when Editor in Chief Erin Maloney wrote an article critical ofthe school’s softball coach, Jessica Kowal who was described asunfriendly, harsh and more concerned with winning rather than playing thegame. Kowal was upset with the article and said that it was poorlyresearched and demanded an apology and retraction, according to an article inthe St. Petersberg Times about the controversy. Kowal will not bereturning in the fall to coach softball for reasons “strikingly similar tothose in the article,” Davenport said.Davenport said Aduminstructed the newspaper’s printing service in Tampa not to print anythingfrom the paper without his OK. Administrators at Gaither High School did notreturn several phone calls requesting comment about thenewspaper.Daveport said she was she insulted that Adum would take hisright to prior review so far as to insult her integrity.“I am nota child,” Davenport said. “I felt what he was saying was that Iwould be sneaking around his back to get the newspaperpublished.”Davenport said she believes that administrators and thenewspaper staff are in disagreement about the function of the school newspaper.“He [Adum] is a conservative person,” Davenport said.“I do not think [the administration] wants news in the newspaper. I thinkwhat they are looking for is an in-house organ.”Former PonyExpress adviser Christie Gold, who left Gaither at the end of the 2001-02school year to advise the newspaper at nearby high school, said Adum wouldrather have a more impressionable adviser to exert control over.“[Adum] has chosen someone he can mold into the kind of adviser hewants, which is one that will produce a paper of some quality, but that is notreal journalism ––– that is not going to dig into the realissues or handle controversial topics,” Gold said. Gold, who readthe controversial article, said that despite the stories’ flaws, she didnot see at as a reason to get rid of Davenport. “The story is kindof unbalanced,” Gold said. “I think putting it on the front page wasinflammatory. But as a whole I did not see anything wrong with it, and I did notsee it as a reason to reassign the adviser.”Davenport, said withthe implementation of prior review and a new adviser, she worries about thefuture of the paper.“I think initially there will be morerestrictions [by administrators] on what they can and cannot publish,”Davenport said. “Ultimately the newspaper staff will become self-censoringand that will be detrimental to not only the students, but to the newspaper aswell.”