Timberland student journalists, parents plan to speak out at board meeting

MISSOURI -- Fed up with months of prior review and censorship, staff members of Timberland High School's The Wolf's Howl, students, parents and community members plan to speak out against restrictive policies and the resignation of journalism adviser, Cathy McCandless, at the Wentzville school board meeting on March 18.

The newspaper and the yearbook are under prior review and have been subject to administrative censorship since October 2009 when Principal Winston Rogers required the removal of an article and editorial about tattoos from the newspaper, and insisted the staff remove all previously approved tattoo ads. Rogers told student editors that the topic of tattoos was not age-appropriate for students.

Students were required to pull copies of their Dec. 17 issue from newsstands because of a thumbnail-sized image of a student's ankle tattooed with a cancer-support ribbon and the name of a student who passed away from the disease.

After the 2009-2010 yearbook was submitted for prior review this week, Rogers called for female student portraits to be re-shot by yearbook staff members because of "bare" shoulders, according to Editor-in-Chief Nikki McGee.

Rogers could not be reached for comment by press time.

McCandless tendered her resignation as adviser on Jan. 25, effective on the last day of the 2009-2010 school year, and is slated to continue teaching English full-time next year at Timberland. In her teaching career, she has been a newspaper adviser for 14 years, and a yearbook adviser for 12 years. Nine of her years have been spent at Timberland.

"I don't believe in prior review and I certainly don't believe in censorship and I can't do a job that I don't believe in," McCandless said.

McGee said she wants the school district to consider persuading McCandless to remain in her position by lifting prior review and stopping censorship.

"More importantly than the newspaper that we put out, is the kids enjoy being around each other. It's the high school experience that they get. And I will thoroughly miss the personalities that I get from teaching journalism. I think the world of them, and they are just wonderful kids to be around every day," McCandless said.

Lori Caballo, a parent of a Wolf's Howl editor Devon Caballo, created a Facebook page titled, "Team McCandless" in order to stop censorship at Timberland and support McCandless as journalism adviser. There are currently 546 members. Another parent started a blog entitled, "Stop THS Censorship"

"As far [McCandless], we're heartbroken. Her track record speaks for itself. She is a phenomenal educator... The awards, the accolades, everything that has happened over the last 10 years that she's been teaching, shows what a good teacher she is and we're losing her and it's sad," Caballo said.

Caballo said she is surprised by the lack of response or open communication from administrators.

"I personally sent an e-mail to every board member, every administrator, and the principal. I got one response out of all of them, and it was a one line sentence from the superintendent that said, 'thank you for your interest in our district.' That's it. To my knowledge nobody who's written has gotten a response. I'm shocked," Caballo said.

Caballo said her e-mail informed administrators of the Facebook page and encouraged them to inform them of the policies and guidelines they operate on. Her primary concern is for the journalism students.

"My fear is that these are kids who have a love for journalism and they're being stifled and they're going to turn away and walk. And I hate for that to happen, it's a great program," Caballo said.

McGee said she has not had good experiences speaking in front of the board in the past, but plans on discussing her experience working with McCandless at the meeting.

"I came in my freshman year, I had severe dyslexia, I never thought writing was an option for me, but I took journalism, and [McCandless] worked so hard with me to get my writing to where it's at today and now I love it. I wrote the story of the year in feature writing that got fourth in the nation. You wouldn't get that from any teacher," McGee said.

Caballo hopes that those coming to speak at the board meeting will have an affect on administrators.

"I'm hoping that once we have the board meeting and they see all the support and they're forced to deal with it...It's shame that it has to come to this, but I'm hoping that they see that is a huge interest in this, and we just need some answers," Caballo said.

Missouri, news, The Wolf's Howl, Timberland High School