Ariz. adviser thinks story about school dances led to his removal

ARIZONA —Students at Lake Havasu High School will find themselves with a new journalismadviser next year following Dan Aston’s removal after four years as adviser tothe student newspaper, Knight Life.Aston contends he was removed in large part over a disagreement with principalDenise Miner about acceptable content for the student paper, but Miner deniesthat claim.

According to Miner, Aston was removed as journalism adviserbased on “many rationales,” although she declined to specify what those reasonsare because it was a personnel decision.

Aston’s replacement starting next year has already beenselected. Although Aston declined to name her because he did not want toinvolve her in this dispute, he said that he did not believe she had anyjournalism training or experience.

Aston said his removal was based largely on an article inthe May 5 edition of Knight Life, thestudent newspaper which is published as a twice-monthly segment of the localnewspaper, Today’s News-Herald.Written by then-junior Tyler Salter, the article described parental backlash to“grinding” at school-sponsored dances, student concern that a new dance policywould be instituted before their prom, and an assurance from a studentgovernment source that no new policy would be enacted before the dance.

Miner said the article was incomplete without includingdetails about a committee created to examine the issue and draw up a new policyfor the next school year, and without a direct quote from her.

“My name was mentioned twice with students inferring thatnothing was being done regarding parents’ concerns as to how students dance atLHHS functions,” she said. “I would like to have been interviewed. I have notbeen approached for an interview all year for any article.”

Regardless of her feelings about the story, she said itplayed “a very miniscule part” in the decision to remove Aston as adviser.

Aston disagreed with Miner’s claim that the story wasincomplete.

“I said [to Miner], ‘I’ve been around journalism for years,and in my understanding of journalism, there’s nothing unprofessional aboutthis article. It’s not biased, it’s just simply reporting what you guys didn’tdo,’” Aston said.

In addition to teaching journalism at Lake Havasu HighSchool for the last four years, Aston has an associate degree in broadcastjournalism. He worked in the field for nearly a year before pursuing a teachingcareer.

He attributed Miner’s other rationales differing teaching philosophiesand the fact that he is on a required improvement plan as an English teacher –solely because the school wants better documentation of his lesson plans, notfor his teaching ability, he said.

“The goal I have for these students is that they can learnhow to be reporters for the school and with the purpose of bringing the news tothe school and the community,” Aston said. “I understand as student writersthey don’t have full First Amendment rights, but you know, it’s still America,and we’re still trying to teach them the spirit of the rules.”

Aston said changing reasons cited by the school have been asource of frustration.

“When she first pulled me in and removed me she said it’sbecause of [Tyler’s] story. Then when we talked some more she says, ‘Well, yourstory, and it’s this other philosophy of teaching journalism,’” he said. “Andthen as a little bit of support for me started growing in the community, thenthey started saying things like ‘It’s other issues too – it’s about yourteaching in English as well.’ Their reasoning has changed as more resistancehas come up against them,” including a Facebook group supporting the teacherwith 283 members as of Wednesday.

To Aston, his removal as adviser was a form of censorship ofthe student newspaper. However, he has no plans to file a complaint against theschool or the district.

“I don’t think I have a winning case anyway,” he said. “Ithink this is more just an embarrassing thing for the administration, for themto behave in this way.”

Miner countered that only Aston was required to review thepaper before publication and that she had never requested prior review norsuggested content.

“I am saddened that rumors have been spread that hisreassignment is due to censorship issues,” she said.