Mass. officials decide not to subpoena student who wrote story on drug use

MASSACHUSETTS — Longmeadow town officials said thisweek that they will not subpoena a student journalist who wrote a disturbingarticle detailing the marijuana-smoking habits of an anonymous female studentand the student’s mother.Officials initially considered issuing asubpoena to Ashley Shaw, a freshman at Longmeadow High School, that would compelher to reveal her sources’ identities. A subpoena is a court order thatwould require Shaw to give sworn testimony that would potentially break theconfidentiality agreement she made with her sources.Town officialsdecided not to pursue a subpoena after considering many factors, including thepossibility that the anonymous family does not reside inLongmeadow.”That is not something that we are aggressivelyor even seriously looking at this time. If other facts or factors come to lifein between, that’s a possibility, but I would say right now we have nointention of doing this,” said Robert Danio, acting police chief ofLongmeadow, a suburb of Springfield.The controversy arose when theJet Jotter, the public school’s monthly student newspaper,published a story written by Shaw in its January issue.The articlequotes the anonymous student as saying, ”Weed is like a project Yourmother helps you with school projects. She helps you get the materials andassemble it. My mother helps me to get the weed and smoke it; so therefore weedis an ongoing project in our lives.”School officials and policewere alarmed by the story and were concerned about the well-being of the studentand her mother. ”Our main concern here is either we or oursurrounding community have a family situation where, based on the content of thestory, there’s some obvious neglect and possibly something of a criminalnature going on in a family. If a parent is supplying marijuana or other drugs,I think you have a fairly serious situation there that could endanger the younglady that is supposedly involved with her mother,” Danio said.TheLongmeadow Police Department initially scheduled a meeting with Shaw and herfamily in hopes of getting Shaw to reveal her sources’ identities.However, the Shaws later cancelled the meeting, according toDanio.Shaw did not respond to requests for comment.Massachusetts does not have what is commonly referred to as a”shield law” protecting journalists from being compelled to revealanonymous sources. However, Massachusetts courts have recognizedjournalists’ right to use confidential sources as a legitimate part ofgaining access to information that may not be divulged without the promise ofanonymity.”Some people have the mindset that just because [thepolice] ask, somebody has to tell us something, and that’s not the name ofthe game,” Danio said.”If we can’t arrive at aconclusion about whom the article speaks, there’s not much we can do aboutit,” he added.Shaw decided to write the story after consultingwith the Jet Jotter‘s student editorial staff and with thefaculty adviser to the paper, Mark Cormier.”The hope of the paperwas that it could generate awareness of this issue and secondly that theexposure would eventually lead to getting the family some help,” saidCormier, who also teaches English and a journalism class at theschool.According to Cormier, there were intial allegations that Shaw hadfabricated the story. But many in the community do not believe that Shawfabricated the story.”She’s been a very trustworthy reporterthroughout the year, and I had no reason to doubt what she was doing waslegitimate,” Cormier said.Danio, too, believes that Shaw’sstory is factual, adding that he has no reason to believe ”it’sinaccurate or that anything in it is anything but thetruth.”Meanwhile, Shaw’s story, while controversial, hasraised important issues that are now being addressed by the school and thecommunity, Cormier said. The Jet Jotter editorial staff is consideringdrafting a policy on anonymous sources.