Calif. district reverses decision to shut down paper that ran flag-burning photo

CALIFORNIA — Shasta High School will have a journalism classnext year after all, even though the school principal planned to eliminate thecourse after The Volcano ran a photo of students burning an Americanflag.

Superintendent Mike Stuart said Thursday he plans to give the schoolfunding for the program so it can build enrollment.

“They have very low enrollment for next year and that is the reasonthe principal was going to cancel the class,” Stuart said. “As you know,California made significant cuts to education next year causing all districts tofind ways to cut costs, and low enrollment elective classes are looked at forelimination.”

Principal Milan Woollard announcedearlier this week that he waseliminating the newspaper class after TheVolcano printed a photo ofstudents burning an American flag and aneditorial on the topic. Woollard told the Redding Record Searchlight he found the issue embarrassing and that it cemented his decision to cut the paper.

“The paper’s done,” Woollard told the Record Searchlight in a June10 article. “There is not going to be a school newspaper next year.”

After speaking with Amanda Cope, who was chosen to be editor in chief ofThe Volcano next year, Stuart said he decided he would give the schoolthe money to fund an extra class period for the newspaper program, which heestimates would cost about $13,000.

Cope, who could not be reached for comment, originally found out about thepaper’s planned demise during her English final June 5, when she was pulled outof class and told to go see her adviser, her mother said.

Cope told the Record Searchlight in a June 12 article that theadministration previously told her the class would continue if she got enoughstudents to enroll. Currently, 11 students are enrolled for the class.

“I met that quota,” she wrote in an e-mail to the RecordSearchlight. “My staff dropped [Advanced Placement] courses, rearrangedtheir planned schedules, and spent literally hundreds of dollars (myselfincluded) preparing to take college courses this summer to free up theirschedule for next year’s newspaper class.”

Stuart told the Student Press Law Center he plans to help change the wayThe Volcano makes editorial decisions by introducing Cope and otherstudents to reporters at the Record Searchlight and asking editors at thepaper to mentor the students on how to make decisions. The students should notjust write an editorial because they can, he said.

“There are other factors that go into that kind of decision. If we’re goingto have a newspaper, we’re going to do it right,” Stuart said. “I want to have agood, good newspaper.”

Stuart also said he hopes the student editorial board and the newspaperadviser will let the administration know in advance if they’re going to write acontroversial article so administrators are not “blindsided.”

However, administrators will not try to exercise greater control over thepaper.

California law prohibits censorship of student newspapers unless theycontain material that is obscene, libelous or likely to incite students to breaklaws or disrupt the school. State law also bars administrators from retaliationagainst students based on protected speech, and current legislation is ready toextend this protection to advisers.

“It’s OK to put controversial things in the paper,” Stuart said. “Puttingyour opinion out there is a brave thing to do. There ought to be a lot ofthought that goes into that.”

Stuart said he had not told Woollard about the extra funding as of noonFriday but that “[this class] is going to happen one way or another.”

“What I’m going to do with this principal is tell him ‘Listen, you can bethe good guy here, Milan, and say the superintendent gave me funding for anextra period so we can have the newspaper,'” Stuart said.

Woollard could not be reached for comment.