Virginia high school to revise policy after controversial articles published

VIRGINIA — A Fairfax County high school has removed a newspaper adviser and said it will revise school policy on student publications after the student newspaper released two controversial issues in March.

The Lake Braddock High School student newspaper, The Bear Facts, landed itself in controversy when it published its March 2 issue that included articles on homosexuality, transsexuality and review of a documentary about bestiality, and its March 30 issue that carried a story on Post Secret, a Web site that posts anonymous contributors’ secrets displayed on homemade postcards. Although the school did not punish the student newspaper staff for circulating these issues, faculty member Daniel Weintraub has been removed from his adviser position and the school has signaled that it plans to modify student editorial policy for the upcoming school year.

“It’s very possible that there will be a new [policy] at Lake Braddock this year,” said Mary Shaw, a Fairfax County School District spokesperson.

Shaw did not give details on a new editorial policy, but said any change would be in part a response to a number of “basic journalism” errors — such as proofreading errors — that school officials say they have seen in the student newspaper. Shaw said she is unsure of all the changes but there would be “no censorship by the administration.”

“It’s about getting the kids up to speed on the basics,” she said.

Shaw declined to comment on whether the school’s removal of Weintraub, who will only teach English in the fall, is related to the administration’s distaste for recent editions of the newspaper, saying only that the faculty change is a “personnel issue.”

Following the publication of the March 2 issue, Lake Braddock Principal Linda Burke wrote in a letter to the community that school officials would be “working closely” with the newspaper staff to ensure that Lake Braddock students derive “maximum educational benefit” from the newspaper.

Tory Altman, 18, the former editor in chief of The Bear Facts who graduated June 13, said she was alarmed by this administrative response after having had its support on previous issues that displeased the community. Altman said The Bear Facts once published an issue that focused on drug use in high school, with which the school did not interfere.

“It was so shocking to find out that the administration was not going to back us at all on this one,” she said, referring to the March 30 issue.

Altman said school officials initially tried to censor the March 30 issue, but likely discovered later that they could not legally prevent students from circulating the publication and eventually gave the newspaper staff the go-ahead to release it to the school.

Altman said the newspaper staff was surprised at the administration’s lack of communication with students about the conflict that resulted in Weintraub’s removal.

“[School officials] said they wanted the paper to go in a new direction,” she said. “They didn’t feel that our adviser was the man to take it there.”

Weintraub confirmed he will only be teaching English in the fall, but declined to comment further on the newspaper’s conflict with the school administration. Lake Braddock has not yet announced whether it will hire a new adviser.

Shaw said the Fairfax County School District has made no plans to revise its policy on student publications, which has been regarded as protective of student free press rights.