Learning from The Scout

30 Mar

In the weeks since first attacking the student newspaper, The Scout, at Overland High School in Aurora, CO, the administration has waffled between various excuses, explanations and accusations. The story in question, which paid tribute to a student’s death, was said to be too controversial. It wasn’t balanced. It wasn’t fit for a student newspaper to run. The school was facing budget concerns. The school was merely turning The Scout into an online publication.

Most agree that Principal Leon Lundie’s reason for discontinuing The Scout and firing Laura Sudik from her position as adviser was not financial. In the past, Lundie had voiced concerns about several articles The Scout had published and had instituted a prior-review policy.

So if not his budget, what is Lundie worried about?

Quite simply, the student journalists themselves. There are approximately 2,230 students at Overland High School. This means The Scout can reach over 2,000 students on one distribution day, plus faculty. That gives them enormous power to convey news and information to the student body in a way that Lundie may not be able to.

Lundie’s actions say quite a bit about a student publication’s role at a school: He feels threatened because he recognizes how influential The Scout is.

From an administrator’s point of view, it must sometimes be scary to trust high school students to decide what content will be put in the newspaper to be distributed to the entire school. What if the stories are inaccurate, vulgar or offensive? What if there are horrible mistakes printed in the paper? How will that reflect on the school?

The Scout’s staff has shown that it is fully capable of addressing these what-ifs. Lori Schafer, the writer of the story and editor in chief of The Scout, confirmed the information in her story with the student’s mother and showed Lundie a copy of the death certificate. She and the staff behaved professionally and tactfully.

Principal Lundie needs to realize that the paper is not working against him, nor is it attacking the school. He could take an active role in the publication of stories, and asked to be interviewed. He has complained that the story is not balanced, and could provide what he sees as his side of the story to Schafer’s article.

In his principal’s message, Lundie states, “Overland’s continued and sustained improvement will depend on the extent to which each of us fulfills our respective responsibilities.”

The Scout is an award-winning publication that has been with the school for decades, and has shown it can uphold its responsibilities. In his heavy-handed action, Lundie has not upheld his.

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