Prior review keeps up Snohomish snow job
WASHINGTON — Student editors at Snohomish High School have found that dealing with the school board is like dealing with a brick wall: neither listens.
The most recent attempt by Arrowhead editors Amber Holmes and Natalia Jenkins to overturn the prior review policy invoked by their principal and superintendent has been denied by the school board.
Since November, the students have tried to publish an article about the firing of vice principal Greg Cox. In October 1996, the Snohomish school district informed Cox that an investigation into alleged sexual harassment and unprofessional conduct provided probable cause for his removal.
When Principal Larry Aalbu learned that students were planning to write about the charges in November, he requested to preview the newspaper.
Jenkins and Holmes denied his request and put the story on hold.
“My feeling is if we did that, we’d set a precedent for every controversial issue to be previewed by the principal,” Jenkins told the Seattle Times.
“How can they teach real journalism if students aren’t even able to exercise their responsibilities?”
In the same article, Aalbu said he thought the students’ article would be “very disruptive” and take students’ attention away from the classroom.
“I don’t see any benefit to putting in a school newspaper something about a big, juicy kiss,” Aalbu told the Times in reference to one allegation that had already appeared in a Times article.
The students unsuccessfully appealed the principal’s prior review request to the school board in January.
In response, the Arrowhead editors decided to allow the superintendent to preview the article, but under protest. According to adviser Lisa Stettler, the superintendent censored about 40 percent of the article and said it had real potential for disrupting the school.
The students chose not to publish the censored article.
While Holmes and Jenkins still wanted to publish a complete account of the story, Stettler advised them in March that they drop their efforts to report the sexual harassment out of respect for the women who made the complaint.
“We don’t know who the women are,” Holmes said, “but we had heard they were really suffering.”
The editors decided not to discuss the sexual harassment charges, but still intended to mention the charges of unprofessional conduct in an article for the May issue.
The article mostly reported on the two new administrators who were hired to replace the vacant vice principal position. The final portion of the article dealt with Cox’s dismissal.
Jenkins and Holmes submitted the new article to the superintendent for prior review, again under protest. The story mentioned all allegations, but only gave examples of unprofessional conduct, not of sexual harassment.
The superintendent censored all the background information relating to Cox, even material taken from a press release that Cox had sent out himself.
At the May 28 school board meeting, the student editors appealed the superintendent’s censorship.
In a detailed oral presentation, the students argued that the article would be balanced, based on legitimate sources and help clear up the rumors circulating.
But the school board again denied the students’ request, with no discussion.
“They basically asked us ‘why were we here again?’” Holmes said. “I don’t think they had taken into consideration that it was a whole new article.”
Since the latest failure, the students have considered taking legal action.
“The district has not substantiated how the article would be an invasion of privacy or interrupt the educational policy,” Stettler said.
Holmes said they have been careful to follow the order given in November requiring prior review on all articles about Cox.
“If we end up moving along with this [in a lawsuit], we will have followed the school district the whole time,” Holmes said. “We’ve done everything by the rules.”
Fall 1997, reports