Washington state high school paper has ‘minor’ changes made to article

WASHINGTON — An article concerning a controversial literature assignment at Lake Stevens High School was published earlier this month by the student newspaper with “minor” changes after it was held from publication by the administration in February.

Gary McDonald, a literature teacher at the Lake Stevens school, became the center of controversy when students and parents complained about an assignment comparing biblical and mythological stories in one of his classes, according to the Everett Herald, a local newspaper.

The Herald also reported in February that Superintendent David Burgess sent an apology letter home to students that said, “I would like to convey my deepest regret regarding the assignment given by Mr. McDonald. I too was offended.”

The Valhalla, Lake Stevens’ weekly student newspaper, was also covering the story, when it was publicly discovered that McDonald is an atheist, according to Valhalla Adviser Aaron Coe. A story was written regarding the incident, but Principal Ken Collins told student Editor Alec Bertholet that the article could not run as it contained personnel information, according to Coe.

“[The topic] was nothing really new so I was very shocked that they had a problem with it,” Coe said. “The story was pretty balanced, more school-friendly than the Everett Herald. I think [the administrators] didn’t want to keep the fire burning.”

According to Coe, administrators were concerned about the article “pitting one particular student against this teacher.”

Collins and Burgess did not return phone calls for comment.

As a result, Coe said a compromise was reached where “rumored” information was taken out, but “nothing real major” was changed.

“They did compromise and it’s good that we avoided [a problem],” Coe said. “You kind of wonder what would happen if something bigger happens down the road.”

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer