CALIFORNIA — A California high school newspaper published coverage of the school’s longtime athletic director’s resignation Friday after the newspaper adviser argued in a Los Angeles Times story the student journalists had been censored.
The Poly Optimist’s March 2015 issue, which was distributed Friday, includes news coverage and an editorial about the controversy surrounding former Athletic Director Kim McEwen’s mid-season resignation.
The students’ reporting on the controversy appeared in print about a month after Francis Polytechnic Senior High Principal Ari Bennett discouraged students write the story, adviser Ethel Matlen said.
Matlen said she assigned the story to student reporters after she heard McEwen planned to resign over administrators’ decision to temporarily suspend another coach. McEwen, who served as Poly’s athletic director for 20 years, felt boys basketball coach Alan Woskanian’s punishment should have been harsher, Matlen said.
Bennett suspended Woskanian for six games after he used an ineligible player in a tournament game on December 3. The player wore another player’s jersey and used a fake name.
Matlen said she received a text message from Bennett shortly after Optimist staff began reporting, which said, “It’s not appropriate to investigate other students or for students to investigate employees.”
Reporting on McEwen stepping down wouldn’t have been complete without explaining why she chose to resign, Matlen said.
Bennett saying it was inappropriate to report on the circumstances surrounding McEwen’s resignation “to me said, ‘Don’t tell the story,’” Matlen said. The student reporters halted their work after Matlen’s exchange with Bennett, she said.
Bennett said he did not try to discourage coverage of McEwen’s resignation, but because Woskanian is a counselor at Poly and a union member, his suspension is a “confidential” personnel matter under district policy. Bennett said he believes the disclosure of confidential information could give Woskanian grounds to claim a grievance against him.
Additionally, Bennett said he texted Matlen because she had called students out of class for interviews with members of the newspaper staff.
After the Los Angeles Times ran a story about the controversy on March 11, the principal “backed off” and student reporters Joshua Penado and Jocelyn Garcia resumed reporting, Bennett said. Without the Times’ coverage, Matlen said she isn’t sure the student newspaper would have ever been allowed to run with their story.
Contact SPLC staff writer Katherine Schaeffer by email or at (202) 974-6318.