MARIETTA, Ga. — This school year's final edition of a high school student newspaper was killed and the school's journalism class was eliminated after the principal said the paper highlighted negative stories and demonstrated a lack of thorough reporting.
Randolph Bynum, principal of Pebblebrook High School in Cobb County, cut the class citing a teacher shortage and the need to keep more popular courses like cosmetology. But he also criticized the newspaper for negative stories at the expense of articles more favorable to the school's image, and for a lack of thoroughness in its reporting of stories on teen pregnancy and vandalism in the school parking lot.
He said despite this, the newspaper, BrookSpeak, could continue next year as an extracurricular activity.
"I did have some issues with the paper, but it was about the quality of it and the evenhandedness of it," Bynum said. "That being said, I am not trying to stop the newspaper. I can't comprehend how (making it an extracurricular) is going to silence a newspaper."
The newspaper staff distributed an editorial in an online blog last week saying they believe the decision was made to censor student opinions.
"While we understand that the administration wants Pebblebrook portrayed in the best light possible, that does not give them the right to silence the voice of this school. It shouldn't be a secret that we have students who bring guns on campus or that we have teen mothers trying to juggle family responsibilities and school."
Co-editor Rebekah Martin, a senior, said the staff "just wanted to write about real issues at school. I'm proud of what we wrote."
Staff and the paper's faculty adviser, journalism teacher Jonathan Stroud, questioned whether the quality of the paper could be maintained without a journalism class.
"I'm going to be willing to do whatever it takes to keep a paper surviving around here," said Stroud, who left Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County this school year, largely to teach journalism near his home in Mableton.
Stroud said he and administrators disagree over who should control the paper's content. Stroud feels students should have final say in the selection and placement of articles.
Student staffers have contacted the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., with their complaint.
"This is a case we'd be happy to pursue," said Mark Goodman, executive director. "The real issue is less who would win a court case, but what message is the school sending the students. They're saying they don't believe in this fundamental principle of American democracy."