Student journalists upset by Wash. school’s decision to nix newspaper class

WASHINGTON — Student journalists at an award-winninghigh school newspaper have met with school district administrators anddistributed 200 fliers to students and parents in an effort to preserve theirnewspaper program. Renton High School administrators have cancelled thejournalism class that produces The Talking Stick for the fall 2004semester, citing new state and federal class-size and testing requirements,scheduling constraints and a lack of student interest. Instead, the newspaperwill be offered as an after-school activity, and the adviser will receive astipend.“I’m stunned,” said Donald Hoang, the incomingeditor who has been leading the movement to reinstate the class. “Yes, weare sometimes critical of school policies. Yes, we sometimes have to report badnews, but that’s what newspapers do.”Students said thechange will make it harder to produce the newspaper because many of the studentsinvolved in the newspaper have other after-school commitments, such as studentgovernment or sports, and because the first semester is the most critical fortraining a new staff. Hoang said he suspects personal conflicts between theadviser and principal or retribution for previous critical articles alsocontributed to the class’s cancellation. During the past year,The Talking Stick published an editorial questioning changes PrincipalKathryn Hutchinson made to the graduation tickets policy. In 2002, the schooldistrict implemented a prior review policy after the paper published a politicalcartoon that some administrators said was racist. Hoang said theprincipal was often sarcastic with the student journalists during interviews andwould not discuss school policies with them.“She doesn’twant to answer any questions of school policy,” Hoang said. “Whatour paper does is report the truth.”Hoang also said newspaperstaff members were frustrated that Hutchinson would not meet with them todiscuss the schedule change. Hutchinson did not respond to requests for commentsfor this article.But district spokesman Randy Matheson said rumors ofpersonal conflicts or retribution for content were untrue, and Hutchinson had todetermine what was in the best interest of all students when finalizing the listof courses to be offered. “That list is sort of driven by theamount of students who signed up or whether or not those classes do anything toget students ready for state tests and national requirements,” he said.“The principal is trying to make accommodations for the students, and ofcourse she understands the students’ passion for thispaper.”Matheson said class sizes for ninth and 10th grades havebeen high, so to reduce sizes, the school was cutting back electives. The schoolmust also prepare 10th grade students for the Washington Assessment of StudentLearning, a standardized test that covers reading, math, writing and listening.Still, Hoang said that because most of the students in the newspaperclass are in 11th and 12th grades, there is no need for them to be affected bythe ninth and 10th grade class-size problems. Additionally, the schoolhas hired an additional English teacher for the 2004-2005 school year.The conflict was further complicated by time restraints caused by thelast day of school, which was June 21. When Hoang met with Hutchinson on thesecond-to-last day of school to obtain permission to distribute information tostudents about the newspaper class cancellation, he was frustrated that she saidhe had to wait until the last day of school.Students were not given aversion of the schedule to review, though Matheson said when students sign upfor classes it is their responsibility to see if those classes are actuallyavailable. Hoang said he only found out about the class cancellation throughother teachers.The students were given hope that they might be able tourge administrators to bring back the journalism class when they met with LouisPappas, executive director for secondary education, who said he hoped theschedule would be finalized by the end of the month. Hutchinson had told thestudents the schedule was already finalized. The Talking Stickhas been publishing for 80 years. Adviser Hilari Anderson, who did not wish todiscuss the current situation, is the recipient of the 2003 WashingtonJournalism Education Association’s Fern Valentine Freedom of ExpressionAward and the 2004 Renton Chamber of Commerce Ahead of the Class award. EditorKimberly Reid received a superior award in the WJEA State Write-off Competition in April.

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