Thursday, September 20, 2018
National News

Principal reverses decision on posting of misconduct story

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Student journalists at a Vermont high school who were asked by the principal to remove a story they broke about unprofessional conduct charges against a guidance director can now repost the article.

Burlington High School Principal Noel Green said Thursday since the story was published elsewhere, students could republish the story, the school administration said.

Students received a tip about the investigation and filed a records request with the state Education Agency. They posted a story Monday night on the BHS Register website based on their findings.

"The response we got was really incredible. We were up all night checking our social media," said Nataleigh Noble, 17, one of the four students.

Green asked them on Tuesday to take the story off the website. The students removed it, reluctantly.

"We felt it was well within our rights to get the news out to the community," said Jenna Peterson, 16, based on a state law passed last year that protects student journalists.

The law also protects schools from content that is in danger of "disrupting the ability to perform its educational mission," which Green later cited as the reason for asking the students to take the story down.

The students consulted with the Washington-based Student Press Law Center and vowed Thursday morning to fight what they called censorship. The center's legal consultant, Mike Hiestand, disagreed with the school's assessment that the story was creating a substantial disruption.

"There's no way that publishing a lawful article about proceedings that have public documentation and all that kind of stuff, there's no way that sort of thing would create a substantial disruption," he said. He said the Vermont law was designed to protect students in situation like this.

"There's no allegation, no charge that their story was inaccurate or misleading or anything like that. They simply ... the school administrators, public government officials didn't like the fact that the news was coming out. And that's why this law was passed," he said.

The New England First Amendment Coalition and the Vermont Press Association on Thursday criticized the article's removal and called for more education for administrators on the new law.

The school district announced in a statement Thursday afternoon that Green had reversed his decision, citing other media picking up the story, "which has been published far and wide," the district said.

Green said he was meeting with the student journalists on Friday. The students said they planned to speak at a school board meeting Thursday night and did not want to comment before that.

The district said it supported Green's decisions and is grateful for the work of the students and the dialogue between the students and administration.

"It is our hope that students and staff will use this case as a learning experience both in and out of the journalism classroom, and that we can grow together," it said.

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