Principal upset by article tries to prevent reporter from participating in graduation


Refusing to be intimidated, student wins battle to walk across stage with 2001 class





VIRGINIA -- Principal Pamela Latt did not want to talk to Nicole\nShort. After all, the Centreville High School senior had already\npublished several other articles that did not reflect well on\nthe school or Latt.

This time, Short was investigating why the suburban Washington,\nD.C., school had the highest teacher turnover rates in the county,\nrates that many attributed to Latt's administration. So when Short\nasked her to comment for the story, she said no.

"Frankly, I don't have time for you, Nicole," Latt\nsaid, a quote that Short included in her story about one teacher's\ndecision to leave the school.

Infuriated by the publication of her quote, Latt threatened\nto keep Short from participating in graduation ceremonies, only\nbacking down hours before the ceremony to allow Short to walk\nacross the stage with the rest of her class.

Short said she had been threatened with punishment in the past\nfor articles she published, but she was never disciplined. Shortly\nbefore the graduation ceremony, Short came to the office to pick\nup extra tickets for family members when she was approached by\nLatt.

Short recalled that Latt stopped her in a busy office, told\nher including the quote was a real "cheap shot" and\nsaid she would not be allowed to participate in graduation.

"I wouldn't think you'd want to attend tonight seeing\nhow you despise this school and all," Short said Latt told\nher.

Sentinel adviser Diane Ferguson said she thought Latt's actions\nwere just a last chance to get revenge on Short for the critical\nstories. Ferguson said she had almost no training in running a\nschool newspaper, allowing administrators to easily control her.

"I felt that part of the reason why they let me do the\njob was that it is much easier to control somebody that doesn't\nknow anything," Ferguson said.

She said when Short joined the staff, she was active in standing\nup for the paper's rights, and was instrumental in ending the\npaper's practice of giving the principal prior review.

"She knew way more than I did about what's right and what's\nnot," Ferguson said.

Ferguson herself decided to leave Centreville partly because\nof the school's administration, and she said Short's article about\nturnover got many teachers talking about the issue.

"By no means is Nicole the load on the camel's back, but\nI believe this story was a big, huge straw," Ferguson said.\n"It finally brought to light a lot of these rumblings."\n

Latt did not return repeated calls made to her office by the\nReport, but Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman Paul Regnier\nsaid Short missed a graduation rehearsal and did not have a doctor's\nnote excusing her. Short said she had permission to miss the rehearsal\nfrom a counselor.

"This was an issue of having that note," Regnier\nsaid. "She was being treated no differently than anyone else."


Fall 2001, reports