Student reporters at odds with administrators over story in school newspaper

Student reporters in Los Angeles recently found themselves in a difficult position. They were at odds with the administration at their magnet school, which specializes in journalism, over a report in the student-run newspaper. Autry Rozendal of our PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs has the story.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Student reporters in Los Angeles recently found themselves in a difficult position, at odds with the administration at their magnet school, which specializes in journalism.

    Autry Rozendal of our "PBS NewsHour" Student Reporting Labs has the story.

  • Adriana Chavira, Journalism Teacher, Daniel Pearl Magnet High School:

    We can have two photos.

  • Autry Rozendal:

    Student journalists at Daniel Pearl Magnet High school for Journalism and Communication in Los Angeles were surprised when the school administration attempted to censor the student-run newspaper.

    Editor Nathalie Miranda says the staff was under a lot of pressure.

  • Nathalie Miranda, Graduate, Daniel Pearl Magnet High School:

    That whole situation, it really did stress me out, because I knew I had written the story.

  • Autry Rozendal:

    The problem started for the staff of the online newspaper The Pearl Post when they published a story about the library closing. The librarian left her position last October due to the Los Angeles Unified School District's COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

    Editor in chief Delilah Brumer says the staffs decision to report and publish the story was straightforward in a school with fewer than 30 employees.

    Delilah Brumer, Editor in Chief, The Pearl Post: It's very newsworthy at a small school, where everyone notices when someone is gone. It's been almost a year, and the library is still closed.

  • Autry Rozendal:

    After the story was published, the principal asked the student reporters to remove the former librarian's name, at her request. The newspapers staff refused and had the support of their adviser.

    After working as a newspaper reporter, veteran journalism teacher Adriana Chavira has run the school's journalism program for 14 years.

  • Adriana Chavira:

    This whole story is full of irony. I have never had a principal ask us to remove anything.

  • Autry Rozendal:

    According to Brumer, the librarian talked openly about the vaccine mandate in her library science classes and explained why she was leaving her position, instead of being vaccinated.

    After the story was published, the former school librarian said she did not consent to be the subject of an article.

  • Delilah Brumer:

    We came to the conclusion that it was important to include her name, and we weren't violating any sort of ethics. We never just like bulldozed past her. We wanted to include her side of the story, but she declined interview requests.

  • Autry Rozendal:

    After they published the story, the Pearl Post staff turned to the Student Press Law Center for legal advice.

    Lead legal counsel Mike Hiestand confirmed the staff was on solid legal ground to leave her name in the story.

  • Mike Hiestand, Senior Legal Counsel, Student Press Law Center:

    This was one of those cases where everything just kind of lined up. And, ultimately, the fact that this took place in California, which has one of, if not the strongest state law in the country protecting student journalists.

  • Autry Rozendal:

    School administrators then notified the journalism teacher Adriana Chavira that she would be suspended if the students did not comply with the request to remove the former librarian's name from the story.

    Brumer stood by the story and reassured her staff that, if the school administration followed through on its threat, it would be breaking the law.

    At the time, Miranda, who wrote the story, felt a lot of pressure from both sides.

  • Nathalie Miranda:

    Looking back, I'm glad I didn't take it down, because now this is a chance for us to get our voice out and make it very clear that student journalists' voices are important, and they should not be censored.

  • Autry Rozendal:

    Chavira was suspended, but she appealed it and, it was rescinded before it took effect, after her case received national media attention.

    A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Unified School District declined our interview request, but sent a statement, saying: "The district supports journalism students, while respecting the concerns of the school community."

    California is one of 16 states with state laws specifically aimed at protecting student journalists.

  • Adriana Chavira:

    I tried to be strong for them, because, eventually, if I did, if I was suspended, and I served my suspension and I came back, I could be fired.

    And that's definitely not something I would want, but it's something I would have gone through to make a stand and teach my students that they need to stand up for what they believe in.

  • Autry Rozendal:

    Lessons she hopes her student journalists will carry with them into the future.

  • Adriana Chavira:

    It's not going to keep students away from covering hard, controversial topics. They're not going to self-censor as well. I think this — they feel more empowered now than before.

  • Delilah Brumer:

    So, yes, I think that — that'll work.

  • Autry Rozendal:

    For the "PBS NewsHour"'s Student Reporting Labs, I'm Autry Rozendal in Burbank, California.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what a courageous bunch of young student journalists.

    We celebrate that kind of work.

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