Friday, March 5, 2010

History of censorship at Timberland High School, Wentzville MO

Hi All,
As promised, here is the background on the issue of censorship at Wentzville's Timberland High School by principal Winston Rogers.  This has been republished from the facebook group that was set up by Wentzville school district parents in response to the outragious activity that has been allowed to continue by the Wentzville School Board.  Please take the time to read, as it will familiarize you with all the players in this nonsense.  Also, I will post links to all of the relevant data that is referenced as needed.....

To: Students and Parents who want to end Student Censorship and Support Team McCandless

From: Team McCandless

Date: 2/25/2010

Team McCandless supports the students’ right to publish their work free from the censorship of the school administration and/or the school board. After speaking to current students, former students, other journalism professionals, parents and many, many supporters of the student’s right to be censor-free, we have compiled an outline of the issues, some background based on the opinion of those who contributed to this outline, former and current students and some information that is public record and documented. Team McCandless does not guarantee that all the information in this outline is completely accurate and wants the readers to know that the only way to educate yourself on this issue, is to research, ask questions and find out for yourself the facts. We do not endorse rumors or opinions. You should make your own informed decision as to where you stand on the issue of censorship of student led publications and the resignation of Cathy McCandless as advisor. If you feel that things need to change or you feel strongly that Cathy McCandless should stay on as advisor and be given the opportunity to do what she does best, speak out. We have created a Facebook group (Team McCandless) to give everyone the opportunity to discuss these issues. We asked a parent (Adult) to be the Administrator of the group to try and keep things organized and respectful. We request that everyone be mindful that the only way to change something is to become involved. We request that everyone respect the opinions of others, be mindful that we encourage meaningful dialogue and that saying what you think on Facebook alone won’t bring about change or let the “powers that be” know where you stand. If you really want to impact a change and let your voice be heard you have to contact the school administration, the superintendents and the board members. Imagine what an impact 300 emails might make. At least we will know that they heard us and we are watching and waiting for them to respond. Let’s encourage them to open a dialogue and act on an issue that is important to those opposed to censorship.

Team McCandless believes that Coach Mac is the key to the success of the journalism program at Timberland. Coach Mac inspires these young journalists to be creative, to have their finger of on the pulse of what is of interest and important to the student body. She doesn’t micro-manage them. She teaches them to think for themselves. She wants them to stretch themselves and to make decisions on their own, using the skills she has taught them. These are bright, enthusiastic students who want to learn from someone who knows journalism and has the education and experience to help them produce great work they can be proud of. The success of the journalism program at Timberland under Coach Mac’s direction speaks for itself and cannot be denied. To give some background on Coach Mac, we’ve included a summary of her educational background and just some of the accomplishments under her direction:
• She has taught for 14 years, 9 of those in the Wentzville School District.
• She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism Education.
• She has her Master Journalism Educator status which is awarded from JEA. (
• She taught at Ball State University’s summer journalism camp for 3 years.
• She teaches at a local yearbook camp and created a newspaper section for that camp.
• She was the Alabama Advisor of the Year in 2000 and 2001.
• She and her students have won 100s of awards at both local and state levels.

Some of these include:

• 2009 – 1st Place in the nation – Newspaper page design (Dean Kelly)
• 2009 – HM (4th place) in the nation – Feature Story (Nikki McGee)
• 2007 – Pacemaker Finalist (top 56 publications in the nation) both Newspaper and Yearbook. This is the HIGHEST award a publication can receive.
• Numerous “Best of Show” placements at the national convention, including:
• 2nd Place – yearbook (2006)
• 3rd Place – newspaper (2007)
• 9th Place – yearbook (2007)
• 7th Place – newspaper (2009)

Both the newspaper and the yearbook operate in the black EVERY year. Budgets are $5K and $50K respectively. The newspaper is self funded through advertisement sales by the students.

As you can see, Coach Mac is clearly qualified to teach and lead these publication students in the newspaper and the yearbook. To many of them, she provides a memorable high school experience, lasting friendship and positive reinforcement. What you may not know is what led her to resign her position. Here is a brief summary of events that we believe led to this decision:

In 2006, the Wentzville School District Superintendent was fired. According to former students, the school newspaper ran the story. (This story was the subject of many local papers and was a topic of interest in the community). According to former students, they believed the school board president tried to censor the story on Dr. Byrnes. The students fought hard and wrote an editorial on censorship. This, according to these students, did not set well with the board. The students believed that the board at the time thought the controversy of the editorial outweighed the controversy created by the actions of the superintendent. Since that time, the newspaper has run spreads on a variety of subjects chosen by the students. These included, tattoos, marijuana and alcohol without being censored or “approved”. Coach Mac teaches her students to cover topics relevant their readers, but insists the articles be balanced and to present both sides of a story. The school newspaper is not intended to be a newsletter but strives to be a real newspaper. According to past and present students, until recently, no one demanded a “prior review” of the paper before being sent to press. The last two Timberland principals did not require this of the newspaper. Last year, the paper had an anti-abortion ad in the first newspaper. The students were upset by this and got attorneys to help them fight this censorship. Letters between attorneys were exchanged but Coach Mac was not a part of this. After this incident, Dr. Waters (principal) indicated that he would review the ads in each issue but not content.

According to current students, during this past summer, Melody Marcantonio held a meeting with advisors and editors from both schools to discuss the upcoming year. Coach Mac was unable to attend this meeting. Coach Mac did call a meeting with the school administration and her students in the beginning of the year, but in the opinion of those who attended on behalf of Timberland, the meeting was largely negative in nature and the district was only interested in talking about how to avoid a lawsuit. Coach Mac wanted to talk about all the positive things that could be done in the new school year and expectations of all parties, but was met with what these students perceived as indifference.

Mr. Rogers (this year’s principal) indicated that he wanted to “approve” each issue of the paper and the newspaper staff backed out of production (a huge inconvenience) for the first issue to accommodate his request. After the first issue, Mr. Rogers indicated that there was some concern about a tattoo ad. He indicated that the district Central Office had come to him questioning the tattoo ad? Ironically, the back page of the next issue (that was to go to press in 4 days) was on tattoos and had other similar ads in the publication. The tattoo article was balanced and discussed many of the concerns around them. Mr. Rogers asked the students to run a disclaimer which they agreed to do. The day before the publication ran, Mr. Rogers changed his position and pulled it ALL! According to the students, he indicated that he would not give a reason, because he didn’t have to according to board policy. Both the students and Coach Mac were upset by this and the way it was handled. During this time, several students and parents became aware of the censoring issue and a local paper wrote a story on it. District official, Melody Marcanotonio made a statement in the article wherein she indicated that the newspaper hadn’t met district expectations in the last four years. Obviously, this was news to many, including Coach Mac. Many parents, students and Wentzville School District patrons responded to the article and many have offered their support of Coach Mac in defending her reputation as an outstanding educator. Clearly, the awards and accolades she and the students have received during her tenure dispute this. If this has been an issue since the students ran a story on Dr. Byrnes and “reasons” for his dismissal, it was interpreted by some as a retaliatory action for the students writing the editorial. The school district seems to be making up the rules as they go and left the students and Coach Mac in a position that makes their “jobs” difficult if not impossible to do in a timely fashion. According to students, the newspaper was once again delayed in December after a picture of a tattoo was included on a cancer spread. This was a small picture. This incident occurred at a time when Coach Mac was out on long-term medical leave. The students were not given an answer that they considered acceptable as to why the issue was pulled and were told that they didn’t need to explain why the issue was pulled when other students asked. In a sense, some felt they were being asked to “lie by omission” as to the reason. They felt the principal wanted to keep it quiet. To date, according to the students, Principal Rogers continually returns things late, holding up production and the students with no regard for timelines, student schedules or common courtesy. These students work hard to produce a quality product and his seemingly lack of concern for their time indicates his position on the matter. The students feel he is unapproachable, unfair and acts on behalf of the school board without giving the benefit of explanation or a clear picture of what he considers acceptable and why he gets to chose the topics they write about. They feel that he does not respect their hard work and the reputation of the newspaper and yearbook.

With all the “issues” regarding the newspaper, it was no surprise that in January of this year, Mr. Rogers informed the yearbook staff that all pages need to be approved by him. This creates a HUGE issue for these students. The yearbook staff has one week to return proofs. Mr. Rogers wants more than 4 days to review. That gives the staff 1 day to review and edit them before they must be returned. Not only is this unfair, it’s impossible and puts a tremendous burden on the timeframe for the yearbook staff. Turning in pages late to the publisher also adds extra fees to the cost of the book. According to the yearbook staff, there are 5 small photos on each spread. Mr. Rogers wants to see the original digital photos rather than the photos integrated into each page. This creates more work. For a period of time, he indicated that he would not “sign off” on them in writing. They also have 8 six inch images on one particular yearbook spread and he wanted the original digital photos of these as well since the actual size color proofs aren’t as clear as the actual yearbook page. The students say that they were told that Mr. Rogers claims he needs to make sure they are “appropriate”. They say that he indicated recently that he would (was told not to) sign off on yearbook proofs. This is the method of keeping track of what he had and hadn’t seen and approved. Essentially, it seems to the students that the principal wants to be the yearbook advisor and these extra steps are impeding the student production of what has been an award winning product that has been delivered on time and on budget with NO cost to the district. He has essentially put himself in Coach Mac’s job and tied her hands and prevented her and the staff from doing what they have been doing just fine for years. It is another form of censorship and it needs to stop.

Coach Mac has tendered her resignation and as far as we know, no effort was made to retain her in this position. The job has now been posted as open for the next school year. Several students on both the newspaper and the yearbook staff considered resigning as well in a show of support for Coach Mac and as a message to the principal and the school board. Coach Mac asked them not to. If she hadn’t, it’s likely that there would be no student led newspaper or yearbook next year. The students respect her. The students support her and want her to stay. If Coach Mac leaves this position, it will be a tremendous loss for our students. The students involved in journalism want to learn from an experienced, knowledgeable teacher who guides them without micro-managing them. There is a proven track record of success. Students, parents and community members are saddened and upset that the situation has gotten to the point that Cathy McCandless feels pressure to resign. We support Cathy McCandless and want her to stay on as advisor. She has proven her ability, her worth and her professionalism.

Many students and parents have asked what they can do to make sure the school administration and the school board know how we feel and what effect this will have for the journalism program at Timberland. To this we say:

• Voice your opinion to the School Administration – let them hear you!
• Voice your opinion to the School Board – they work for YOU!
• Join our effort and support Team McCandless.
• Show the Board that we will not be CENSORED!

No comments:

Post a Comment