Background and Context for the Next Post

The next post is going to be a little bit different. It requires some backstory, especially if your child doesn’t attend the same school as Jackson.

To make one long story short, one of the Elementary teachers at Jackson’s school is on administrative leave while being investigated for abuse. The family of the child whom she allegedly abused is suing the school for violating the child’s constitutional rights. Stories about this were on the news, in the local newspaper, and picked up by national news outlets (and one London tabloid) in December and again in February.

I teach the Publications elective at Jackson’s school. The goal of the elective is to publish the student newspaper, which is distributed to 4th through 8th graders in print and distributed to parents as an emailed PDF file.

The kids choose the topics for the newspaper. I was surprised when the teacher’s story wasn’t mentioned in my second trimester class. It was, however, brought up in my third trimester class, which consists of 7 girls from the Intermediate program (4th-6th grades). The class voted on which topics to include, and the teacher’s story got 6 votes. Before I said, “OK, let’s do it,” I said, “Let me check on that one.”

So I researched freedom of the press as it pertains to student newspapers. The teacher’s story fell within the bounds of free speech.

Naturally, the kids wanted to do a “what really happened?” story. However, I could see how that might be a problem for the criminal investigation. So, after lots of thinking and discussion, we came up with the idea to write a story based on the question, “How do the students feel now that the teacher is gone?”

The girl chosen to write the article is a new student. She joined the school after Christmas break, so she never even met the teacher. She interviewed some Intermediate and Elementary students, asking the question, “How do you feel now that the teacher is gone?”

Our school doesn’t really have a principal. We have an administrative team. However, for all intents and purposes, one of the Kindergarten teachers pretty much is the principal. She found out about the interviews and… well, to make a second long story short, she asserted that the article would not be written.

Obviously, I disagreed with her perspective. She invited me to talk with her… which somehow, without my knowledge, became a meeting between the “principal,” four other teachers, and me. To make a third long story short, the staff was dead set against the article, and the principal emphatically stated that the school will have complete editorial control over the newspaper.

Now, for the most part, I don’t think anyone there was intending to be malicious. As one teacher said, they were just being protective of their students. They believed that the article would traumatize some Elementary students, and that the trade off (infringing on my students’ constitutional right to free speech, or simply hurting my students’ feelings, depending on how you look at it) was acceptable. The principal was concerned about the article’s impact on the legal proceedings, and about how the parents would react.

So I walked into our last class before publication and told them that the staff wasn’t allowing the article to be published.

I was not prepared for what happened next.

The article’s author looked stricken. I thought she was going to cry. Three of the other girls were outraged. One of them jumped up on a chair. There was much yelling from that side of the table. One of the girls just kind of sadly said, “I told you so.” The other two girls, while not as outraged as the first four, were visibly upset.

To make a fourth long story short(er), I explained the staff’s rationale of sparing the Elementary students’ feelings. One girl yelled, “But they don’t even read the newspaper!” And another, “They can’t even read!”

And that’s pretty much true. The newspaper isn’t distributed to Elementary and Primary students. However, most of the Elementary students can, in fact, read.

One girl asked if we could send the article to “the real newspaper.” I offered my blog as a compromise.

I feel that my main responsibility as Publications teacher is to give the students a voice. I didn’t fight hard enough for their voice in the discussion-turned-meeting. I didn’t want to impose my moral indignation about the situation on them. I thought they’d be upset, but I never imagined they’d react as strongly as they did. I underestimated them, and I’m sorry for that.

The following post is the article that the school didn’t want me to publish. I say “me” because the school doesn’t actually publish the newspaper. I do. I pay for the printing out of my own pocket. The kids do the writing and drawing, I do the layout, and I publish the end product.

Or at least, I did. This was my last go-round as Publications teacher, for obvious reasons. I really am going to miss it.

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4 thoughts on “Background and Context for the Next Post

  1. Pingback: How Do the Kids Feel Now That Miss M’s Gone? | The Chittister Family

  2. Pingback: If I Had $590.5 Million | The Chittister Family

  3. Pingback: Robyn, Where Have You Been? | The Chittister Family

  4. Pingback: The Duct Tape Incident and Related Stories | Holding to the Ground

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