Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Marietta Daily Journal Article

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Opinions differ on principal's shutdown of student newspaper

By Jon Gillooly
Marietta Daily Journal Staff Writer

MABLETON - Pebblebrook High School students are protesting the closure of the school's journalism class - which produces the school newspaper - calling it a violation of their First Amendment rights.

"This is about getting the newspaper back for our school," said senior Ashley Springer, a reporter for BrookSpeak, the school newspaper.

The BrookSpeak staff produced three editions this year and plans for a fourth have now been called off.

The paper was resurrected last August after two years of dormancy when the school hired Jonathan Stroud, whose student newspaper at Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County was named best in the state last year by the Georgia Scholastic Press Association.

Student reporters say Pebblebrook Principal Randolph Bynum Sr., who has served as principal at the school for the past six years, canceled the class after he became angry at a front-page article in May about teenagers who are both students and mothers.

"By canceling the student newspaper class, Principal Bynum is violating students' freedom of speech, and we hope you will reverse that decision," senior Michaela Watkins, along with other student editors, wrote to Superintendent Joe Redden in an e-mail May 10.

Redden responded by saying he would have the district's attorney look into the matter.

Contacted Tuesday, Bynum said the controversy has nothing to do with his opinion of the newspaper, but because of a teacher shortage.

"We lost three teacher allotments," Bynum said. "Most high schools lost three to five or more."

He also said the newspaper may still publish under Stroud, but it will have to be an after school activity.

"To me, what it boils down to is, 'I can't get what I want, I'm a senior, so I run to the media,'" Bynum said Tuesday.

However, e-mails between Bynum and Stroud, obtained by the student reporters through Georgia Open Records Law, indicate Bynum did indeed have ongoing concerns about the paper.

Furthermore, both students and Stroud said Tuesday that the difficulty of publishing a paper with an after school club rather than in a journalism class would be significant.

"I cannot advise the same quality newspaper produced in class as one produced in an extracurricular activity," Stroud said.

"The level of instruction would not be as high," he said.

However, Stroud said he would still like to advise the after school paper and Bynum said he could continue to do so.

"I want to continue teaching at Pebblebrook, even though I'm not happy about not teaching journalism," Stroud said, declining to comment on administrative decisions.

Bynum's concerns with the paper date back to at least December 2004, when he asked Stroud in an e-mail what the guidelines were for letters to the editor.

"My only concern is when people use a forum to bitch with no solutions or when they try to make veiled personal attacks on people," he said.

Bynum said the two of them needed to "do an assessment of the newspaper's future," before the 2005-06 course registration.

Asked Jan. 24 when he could begin recruiting for next year's student reporters, Bynum responded by saying Stroud could continue with his recruitment plans.

However, Bynum added, "I will reserve final judgment to see if the quality of (student's) questions gets betters. The lack of initiative in some of the questions is apparent."

The issue came to a head with the May publication featuring a front-page article about teenagers who are both students and mothers.

Stroud defended the story by saying in an e-mail to a Pebblebrook administrator, "I teach my students that they are to be impartial reporters when producing the newspaper, not cheerleaders."

Cobb school district spokesman Jay Dillon said the decision about the newspaper's future will be made by Bynum.

"There should not be any First Amendment issues regarding a school principal's ability to define the curriculum his school offers," Dillon said. "It's unfortunate these courses will be discontinued, but Mr. Bynum has pledged to accommodate the students interested in journalism with an after-school club."

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