Online muckraker banned by school


Principal threatens editors with expulsion





PENNSYLVANIA — Typically, any press is good press for emerging Internet-based projects. For the Carbon County Vo-Tech High School students behind an online newspaper, however, increased media attention has led to problems with school administrators.

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Following a local newspaper's publication of an article about students James Curry and Conrad Flynn's Web-based muckraker The Babbitt (thebabbitt.com), principal Paul Caputo threatened the students with expulsion and blocked school computers from accessing the site.

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The administrative action stems from a provocative Babbitt article about English teacher Judy Fisher posted last fall. The piece, heavily rhetorical at times, alleged that Fisher had lied about the details of an argument with Curry when referring him to the disciplinary committee. In January, The Morning Call of Allentown and a local television station did stories on The Babbitt and mentioned the controversial article's central allegation: that Fisher repeatedly used the phrase "vo-tech style" in class to refer to a simplified version of what she was presenting.

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Caputo subsequently asked the school's Internet service provider to filter out the site. This action blocked computers at all schools in Carbon County from accessing thebabbitt.com, since filtering requests by default affect all schools serviced by provider Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit, Assistant Executive Director Robert Keegan said.

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Neither Caputo nor Fisher returned phone calls placed to their offices. Caputo told The Morning Call in January, "I just felt the language and the content [on The Babbitt Web site] wasn't appropriate for school viewing. I just felt I had no choice. They weren't responding to my requests to be fair and balanced and accurate."

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Flynn was moved out of Fisher's advanced English class on Jan. 28. Curry and Babbitt writer Katherine Marks had transferred previously.

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Then on Feb. 1, Caputo sent a letter to the parents of Babbitt staff members in which he asserted that the Web site and the local media coverage it generated had "caused a disturbance on school grounds" and encouraged the parents to halt the paper's production. The letter also stated that the students were prohibited from promoting their Web site on school grounds and from conducting any activities related to the site while at school.

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"[The students] will be held responsible for any further disruption this Web site or their activities associated with same, causes at our school," Caputo wrote in the letter. "Disciplinary action can include suspension and/or expulsion."

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The Babbitt

has continued to operate and Flynn said the school has not taken any action since Caputo's letter.


reports, Spring 2002