New Jersey school district recommends communications officer as newspaper adviser, student journalists resist

New Jersey — Staff members of the student newspaper at Hunterdon Central Regional High School want to keep the adviser they had last year — who is slated to be replaced by the district’s communications officer — and are willing to fight for it.

The Lamp co-editors-in-chief Sonay Barazesh and Alexis Morillo, former editor-in-chief Annie Nazzaro and Sonay’s father Bahman Barazesh spoke at the Sept. 15 school board meeting to express concern over a proposed change in advisers because the superintendent didn’t recommend the prior year’s adviser for the position.

At their Sept. 15 meeting, the school board was set to approve Nancy Tucker, the district’s communications officer, as the new adviser for the newspaper. The board decided to postpone the vote.

“We really wanted to keep some consistency with our paper,” Sonay Barazesh said. “And we felt like having a new adviser every year was hugely inconsistent.”

With Tucker in both of these roles, as the communications officer and the newspaper adviser, she said students might hesitate to share story ideas.

Bob Behre, a high school sports reporter for The Star-Ledger who has also been employed at the school for five years, became the adviser last year. A previous adviser, who advised the paper for 10 years, resigned after the district instituted a prior review policy.

Behre said he hopes to be the adviser again.

“I didn’t apply because I didn’t know I had to apply” to continue being the adviser each school year, he said.

Superintendent Christina Steffner said she understands why students could think that Tucker was going to interfere with their expression. She said Tucker is “not a press secretary,” has a background in journalism and would be able to separate the responsibilities as newspaper adviser from other jobs.

Steffner said Tucker, who declined to comment for this story, has several roles with the school district in addition to being the communications officer. She also serves as the executive producer of the district-owned public access television channel and the webmaster.

Steffner posted the position for the newspaper adviser on March 30 and noticed in mid-July that the position had not been filled, she said. When the position was posted again, Tucker and Behre applied and were interviewed.

Steffner will meet with the Board of Education in October to discuss the hiring process, she said.

“Ideally it’s decided that they want to go by the wishes of the students,” Behre said, “which would be to have me as their adviser again.”

SPLC staff writer Anna Schiffbauer can be reached by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.