GEORGIA — When the principal at Pebblebrook High School cancelled the school’s journalism class in May, it seemed likely that Brookspeak, the student newspaper produced by the class, would die with it.
But shortly after the cancellation of the class, the Brookspeak staff began a Web log, Speaking Underground (www.speakingundergroundonline.blogspot.com), ”to keep students’ voices from being silenced by school authorities,” the site states.
The success of the Web log, combined with a new program being implemented by the Cobb County School District in the 2005-2006 school year that will provide each student at Pebblebrook with a laptop computer, has the paper’s adviser hopeful that a Pebblebrook student publication has a future.
The school’s former principal, Randolph Bynum, cancelled the class, citing budget cuts, but said it could continue as an extracurricular activity. Brookspeak adviser Jonathan Stroud and members of the staff believe the cancellation was an attempt to censor the paper. The staff completed four issues of the paper but Bynum prevented the last from publishing because he said students needed to concentrate on finals, Stroud said, though he believes Bynum was concerned about an editorial contained in the last issue critical of his decision to eliminate the class.
”He was outraged by the fact that I would say that students get to make content decisions in the paper,” Stroud said. ”He told me the paper should be a public relations tool of the school and that that should be my job — to make sure the students are doing a good job of doing public relations for the school.”
Cobb County officials did not return calls for comment.
Pebblebrook senior Aimée Twagirumukiza, who would have been one of the co-editors of Brookspeak if the class had not been cancelled, said the administration is wrong to think the paper should serve it.
”We’re supposed to cover things that are happening, not be propaganda for our school,” she said.
Some students considered taking action against Bynum, but he was promoted to area assistant superintendent of the school district at the end of the school year and they decided their case would not be strong enough with Bynum gone, Stroud said.
Regina Montgomery, who took over as the principal of the school on July 1, has not spoken with Stroud or the students about the future of the paper, though a message on Speaking Underground encourages supporters of Brookspeak to send e-mails to her on behalf of the paper. She has not yet addressed the students’ concerns about the future of the paper, but Stroud said she could not be blamed because the class schedule was set in place before she arrived.
”I’m trying to give [Montgomery] every benefit of the doubt,” he said.
Bynum offered the after-school solution because he knew it would be very difficult for the students, Stroud said. Half of the staff is involved with the performing arts after school — Pebblebrook is a magnet school for the performing arts — and most of the other half have no way to get home if they stay later.
Twagirumukiza agreed an after-school newspaper would be difficult, but said if they had to go that direction they would.
”We love journalism so of course we’ll take anything we can get,” she said.
Despite the cancellation of Brookspeak, Stroud is confident the staff can continue to deliver the news to Pebblebrook students. He thinks an online publication would be the best way to do so because every student at the school will be given a laptop.
”Limitations sometimes create opportunities to do new things and that’s the way I’m trying to look at it,” he said. ”If any school is tailor-made for a Web site that reports news it could be this school, especially if we can gather e-mail addresses from all the students and send updates to our Web sites constantly.
”You’ve got a captive audience there that if you can get the word out that your Web site exists and get them to click the link and go there, our readership will probably be even greater than it would be in a physical paper,” Stroud added.
As excited by the online idea as Stroud is, he said the decision is ultimately his students’ to make.
”I haven’t made decisions for my students yet and I’m not going to start now,” he said.