Calif. high school newspaper saved after students protest school's decision to cut the class

CALIFORNIA — The newspaper at La Costa Canyon High School appears to have been saved after staff protested a decision to cut the class.

The class was taken off the fall schedule in April, but Principal Kyle Ruggles said Friday that the district’s superintendent assessed the matter and the course will now be “provided in tandem with the broadcasting program.”

“It’s going to be nice because we’re going to be looking at a different way of providing journalism and kind of a futuristic way, because a lot of the media is kind of going that route,” Ruggles said.

Though he has not confirmed all of the details yet, Ruggles said the plan is to have the journalism adviser and broadcast teacher teach the course together.

MavLife Editor-in-Chief Megan Mineiro said she was “incredibly relieved” by the news. Staff had spoken with the principal and the school board to protest what they believed was retaliatory action in response to coverage by the paper earlier this year.

“From all that’s happened and how difficult it’s been, in the end we’re much better off,” she said.

Originally, Ruggles told staff the class cancellation was caused by decreased enrollment and interest, a fact editors disputed. After hearing that the 26 students on the fall roster weren’t sufficient, staff found 11 more students, Mineiro said.

Though classes average 38 to 39 students across the district, Ruggles said there is not a specific minimum number of students a class must have.

“There’s not a particular number that we’ve identified across the district,” Ruggles said. “We need to be a little bit flexible with that number.”

MavLife staff met with Ruggles on April 30, with their list of additional interested students in hand, Mineiro said. She said they were told the master schedule had been completed and couldn’t be changed. Mineiro said Ruggles also told the students that the class was not dropped because of a lack of money.

After some investigating, the students felt what they had been told about changing the schedule was “not entirely true,” because the master schedule has not been finalized so early in the past, Mineiro said.

At that point, staff began to be concerned that a story and editorial they published in March about Ruggles’ cutting of the school’s athletic director position may have led to the decision to pull the class from the fall schedule, she said.

“You eliminate budget, enrollment and the master schedule, and all that’s left is they’re unhappy with the newspaper,” Mineiro said.

Students met with Ruggles again on May 1, and asked if the class closure was related to anything they’d written. Mineiro said Ruggles told them it wasn’t.

“He denied that and said he’s always been in full support of the student voice,” Mineiro said.

In an interview, Ruggles said his decision to pull the class was not related to the paper’s content. He said he supports the students’ First Amendment rights and tells the students so.

“I’ve been extremely supportive of everything they’ve done for the paper so this decision has nothing to do with that,” Ruggles said.

Ruggles said he has no complaints about the paper and that it is an “excellent measure of what’s going on on our school grounds.”

Last year, the staff gave Ruggles a press freedom award. Mineiro said the staff “named it in his honor” and that it was a “tribute to his support for the program.”

Four newspaper staff members and a contributor spoke at a May 2 school board meeting to protest the cut, Sports Editor Anthony Fregoso said.

They explained the situation and talked about how the journalism course has benefited students and given them a way to speak personally to the whole the campus, how losing the paper would cause campus morale to continue to drop, and how the journalism course aligns well with the goals of the ELA/Literacy Common Core State Standards, Fregoso said.

He said they seemed to get a good response and the board chose someone to look into the situation.

Emails to multiple school board members seeking comment were not returned.

At the time of the school board meeting where the students spoke, Ruggles scheduled a different meeting for parents of the newspaper staff at the same time. Only two students from the newspaper staff attended that meeting, Mineiro said.

The students met with Ruggles twice after the school board meeting and were told that Ruggles and district officials were considering turning the class into an after-school program, Mineiro said. Editors told him they didn’t feel that option would work, though.

Superintendent Ken Noah said he thinks combining the two courses is “a really good solution” and “a win for everyone.”

However, while Noah said he understands that the students care about the journalism class, he said he’s unhappy with the way some students and adults handled the situation.

“It’s been disappointing to me that students who are in a journalism class, who I believe know what good journalism principles are, have engaged in some respect in a campaign to discredit the principal by indicating that this decision was made in their opinion because of an article they had written,” Noah said. “I would have hoped that rather than simply voice opinions they would have done what journalists do … follow that story.”

Other adults and teachers have commended the staff on the way they’ve handled it, Mineiro said. She said that in the beginning, she “would never have thought” the cut was about the newspaper’s content, but that after meetings with Ruggles, she felt other reasons had been eliminated.

“If he only knew exactly what we’ve done the last two weeks, I think he would have a different opinion,” Mineiro said of Noah.

Journalism adviser Suzi Van Steenbergen declined to comment except to say that she is “really proud of the work that the student journalists do and that I think that their work really speaks for itself.”

Last month, the paper received Best in Show at the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention. The paper also won Best in Show-News Coverage at the San Diego County Fair in 2012.

By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.