Timberland student journalists, parents plan to speak out at board meeting

MISSOURI — Fed up with months of prior review and censorship,staff members of Timberland High School’s The Wolf’s Howl, students,parents and community members plan to speak out against restrictive policies andthe resignation of journalism adviser, Cathy McCandless, at the Wentzvilleschool board meeting on March 18.

The newspaper and the yearbook are under prior review and have been subjectto administrative censorship since October 2009 when Principal Winston Rogersrequired the removal of an article and editorial about tattoos from thenewspaper, and insisted the staff remove all previously approved tattoo ads.Rogers told student editors that the topic of tattoos was not age-appropriatefor students.

Students were required to pull copies of their Dec. 17 issue fromnewsstands because of a thumbnail-sized image of a student’s ankle tattooed witha cancer-support ribbon and the name of a student who passed away from thedisease.

After the 2009-2010 yearbook was submitted for prior review this week,Rogers called for female student portraits to be re-shot by yearbook staffmembers because of “bare” shoulders, according to Editor-in-Chief NikkiMcGee.

Rogers could not be reached for comment by press time.

McCandless tendered her resignation as adviser on Jan. 25, effective on thelast day of the 2009-2010 school year, and is slated to continue teachingEnglish full-time next year at Timberland. In her teaching career, she has beena newspaper adviser for 14 years, and a yearbook adviser for 12 years. Nine ofher years have been spent at Timberland.

“I don’t believe in prior review and I certainly don’t believe incensorship and I can’t do a job that I don’t believe in,” McCandlesssaid.

McGee said she wants the school district to consider persuading McCandlessto remain in her position by lifting prior review and stopping censorship.

“More importantly than the newspaper that we put out, is the kids enjoybeing around each other. It’s the high school experience that they get. And Iwill thoroughly miss the personalities that I get from teaching journalism. Ithink the world of them, and they are just wonderful kids to be around everyday,” McCandless said.

Lori Caballo, a parent of a Wolf’s Howl editor Devon Caballo,created a Facebook page titled, “Team McCandless” in order to stop censorship atTimberland and support McCandless as journalism adviser. There are currently 546members. Another parent started a blogentitled, “Stop THS Censorship”

“As far [McCandless], we’re heartbroken. Her track record speaks foritself. She is a phenomenal educator… The awards, the accolades, everythingthat has happened over the last 10 years that she’s been teaching, shows what agood teacher she is and we’re losing her and it’s sad,” Caballo said.

Caballo said she is surprised by the lack of response or open communicationfrom administrators.

“I personally sent an e-mail to every board member, every administrator,and the principal. I got one response out of all of them, and it was a one linesentence from the superintendent that said, ‘thank you for your interest in ourdistrict.’ That’s it. To my knowledge nobody who’s written has gotten aresponse. I’m shocked,” Caballo said.

Caballo said her e-mail informed administrators of the Facebook page andencouraged them to inform them of the policies and guidelines they operate on.Her primary concern is for the journalism students.

“My fear is that these are kids who have a love for journalism and they’rebeing stifled and they’re going to turn away and walk. And I hate for that tohappen, it’s a great program,” Caballo said.

McGee said she has not had good experiences speaking in front of the boardin the past, but plans on discussing her experience working with McCandless atthe meeting.

“I came in my freshman year, I had severe dyslexia, I never thought writingwas an option for me, but I took journalism, and [McCandless] worked so hardwith me to get my writing to where it’s at today and now I love it. I wrote thestory of the year in feature writing that got fourth in the nation. You wouldn’tget that from any teacher,” McGee said.

Caballo hopes that those coming to speak at the board meeting will have anaffect on administrators.

“I’m hoping that once we have the board meeting and they see all thesupport and they’re forced to deal with it…It’s shame that it has to come tothis, but I’m hoping that they see that is a huge interest in this, and we justneed some answers,” Caballo said.