COLORADO — In a meeting today, Overland High School’s student newspaper editors learned their newspaper would continue this year as planned, without prior review and with their adviser.
Jaclyn Gutierrez, opinions editor of The Overland Scout, said Principal Leon Lundie told those in the meeting that the students could print their remaining issues as planned, without restrictions, “to get through this year.”
Lundie held the meeting during the newspaper class period. Those in attendance included Scout Editor-in-Chief Lori Schafer, Gutierrez, adviser Laura Sudik and district spokeswoman Tustin Amole, among others.
In a statement released by the district, Lundie said the students at the meeting “agreed that I had not ordered the newspaper shut down, but said they thought I had told them there could be no more issues for the remainder of the current school year other than the planned senior edition. I repeated to them I had expressed concern for whether they could produce additional editions in the time remaining, but did not tell them they could not publish the newspapers.”
What will happen to the newspaper next year is still unclear. Gutierrez said while their adviser was reinstated, the administration seems to be leaning toward putting someone else in charge of the newspaper class next year.
According to the statement, Lundie said the administration wants to align with the University of Colorado, which reflects “online publishing and new communication technology, including blogs.”
The University of Colorado at Boulder is considering shutting down its journalism school following internal controversy – including the removal of the student newspaper adviser.
Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, took part in the meeting via phone.
“It’s a good first step,” he said. “It’s not a total resolution yet – they still don’t know what will happen over the summer and next year. We have time between now and the beginning of next year to make sure that whatever happens to the publication meets the needs of the school while protecting the rights of the students.”
Goldstein emphasized that the problem isn’t over yet.
“Firing the adviser in May for what the students wrote isn’t more permissible than it is in March,” he said. “We still need assurances that this program will still exist as vibrant as it ever has.”
As for the differing accounts of whether the adviser was fired, Goldstein said, “It’s very clear that this was not something from the students’ imagination. At a very minimum, it was a miscommunication between two district employees that was conveyed to the students,” he said.
Amole said there was a misunderstanding about the adviser’s removal, as well as changes in the newspaper class.
“The adviser hasn’t been removed,” Amole said Thursday when asked if the adviser was being reinstated. “No, the same adviser who has been teaching it all year will continue to do that for the remainder of the school year. Nothing’s been shut down, no one’s been removed.”
Amole said Lundie may choose to “have another teacher who is more familiar with those technologies.”
The conflict between the students and the principal came to a head when the students say Lundie objected to an article about sophomore Leibert Phillips’ death.
Phillips died Jan. 1 after a blood clot traveled to his lungs and caused a pulmonary embolism. According to his death certificate, the clot resulted from complications of a leg fracture he sustained in a Dec. 9 wrestling meet at Overland High School.
Schafer and Gutierrez maintain Lundie said they had incorrectly stated the cause of death. When the students brought the death certificate to Lundie to prove they were correct, he told them the article lacked balance and the issue was “too big for a high school paper,” Gutierrez said.
Lundie maintains, via the statement, that he talked to the students about the story because it “cited a single source. I suggested they interview additional sources to give the story balance. I did not tell the students they could not publish the story as originally written.”
According to a March 27 article in the Denver Post, Amole said “budget concerns” were the reason the newspaper would not be publishing after a final issue.
The Post also reported the “students did not have the money to publish any more issues after the upcoming senior issue and that Lundie had not shut down the paper,” attributing that information to Amole.
Amole said the information about budget issues in various articles was “mischaracterized.”
According to the statement, Lundie said he had asked the editors to “submit a proposal to ensure that their plans for publication would fall within the allotted printing budget granted at the beginning of the school year.”
He said the “students have delayed publication of the current issue with plans to include additional articles.”
Gutierrez said the newspaper staff needs to update the stories for the current issue because of the five-week delay. She said the newspaper’s printing schedule was on target and they will now need to re-evaluate how many issues they can publish before the end of the school year. They had planned for three or four more, along with a senior issue.
The Society of Professional Journalists Colorado Pro Chapter Board of Directors sent a letter March 29 to Superintendent Mary Chesley and members of the Cherry Creek School Board expressing “deep concern over the events at Overland High School involving the Scout student newspaper and Principal Leon Lundie.”
The board members wrote that they would be available to help “ensure the highest standards of journalism continue to be emphasized at Overland High School” if the course changes and the newspaper becomes an online-only product after this school year.
The district’s current acceptable use policies don’t allow the last names of students to be published online.
Colorado is one of seven states with extra protection for high school journalists. According to the Colorado Student Free Expression Law, student publications can only be restricted if they contain obscene or defamatory information, or if they promote unlawful acts, the disruption of school or a violation of someone’s right to privacy.
“It is unfortunate that my statements were misunderstood,” Lundie said in the statement. “I agree that I probably could have communicated better and I take personal responsibility for that.”
By Aly Brumback, SPLC staff writer