September 21, 2014

Mar 23, 201202:10 PMEducation Matters

Recall of B-CC newspaper sparks confusion, controversy

Mar 23, 2012 - 02:10 PM
Recall of B-CC newspaper sparks confusion, controversy

The front page of The Tattler that caused the controversy.

Parents were left scratching their heads—and student journalists wondering what they did wrong—after Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School administrators confiscated copies of the school newspaper on March 16.

Principal Karen Lockard sent an email to the B-CC staff to collect The Tattler, which included a photo of WUSA Channel 9 reporter Andrea McCarren and a 70-word story about her recent reports on teen drinking.

McCarren, a Chevy Chase resident, was featured in a sidebar to an article about how teens are portrayed in the media. Last month, McCarren took herself off the air after she said that her children were harassed personally and online.

WUSA reporter Derek McGinty continued her series of reports, but McCarren put herself back on the story and aired another report on teen drinking Tuesday.

McCarren reportedly met with Lockard last Friday and complained that The Tattler story could lead to further harassment of her children.

The B-CC newspaper recall resulted in some of the roughly 2,000 copies that are distributed being taken out of the hands of students, according to parents and Tattler Editor-in-Chief Amy Heaton. Heaton, a Bethesda Magazine intern, said she was told by Lockard that the recall came after a talk with McCarren.

Lockard and McCarren declined comment. But McCarren’s husband, Bill, questioned why McCarren was included in The Tattler story after she had declined an interview request. He also suggested his family’s privacy had been invaded and student journalists should be subjected to greater oversight by school administrators.

According to MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig, the Board of Education does not have a policy concerning administrative oversight of school newspapers. “Certainly principals have a right to exert editorial control over a newspaper if it is part of the curriculum at the school,” Tofig said in an email. “But the principals at MCPS—including B-CC—tend to work collaboratively with student papers on the editorial direction and content of each issue.”

On Monday, Lockard met with The Tattler staff and issued a letter to students and staff explaining that the recall was intended “to protect students who had been harassed personally and online.” The letter continued: “The harassment had lessened and the concern arose that a story would stir things up again. The intent also was not to take papers out of the hands of students; rather it was to collect those issues that had not been distributed until they were reviewed. The administration of B-CC High does not exercise blatant censorship of the student press. More important, the administration does not endorse harassment and endangering students.”

The remaining copies of the newspaper were released Tuesday to students and staff.

Heaton said that she and her editors didn’t understand what they had done wrong by using a photo of McCarren, whom they consider a public figure. Heaton met Monday with Lockard to talk about the recall. “This was a valuable experience,” Heaton said. “I don’t blame the school for what happened. I think they acted rashly, but I understand what they did and I am glad that The Tattler was released.”

David Lopilato, a B-CC English teacher and The Tattler faculty advisor, said the newspaper included McCarren because her continuing reports were part of the broader story of how teens are perceived in the media. “Had she pulled herself off the story and we ran our story, that would be one thing,” he said. “But she put herself back on the story in a very public way.”

Heaton’s mother, Lisa, wondered how her daughter and other student journalists would be affected by the recall. “This was about making young journalists feel as if they had done something wrong and this could shut down their willingness to push the edges, which is what they should be doing,” said Heaton, who also works at Bethesda Magazine. “If you shut them down when they are just testing the limits of that, you have really lost something.”

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Education Matters will discuss the news and issues affecting both public and private schools in Montgomery County. We want to talk about what’s happening inside—and outside—the classroom, who’s making the grade and who isn’t.

Julie Rasicot is a former newspaper reporter and managing editor who’s been writing about education for 25 years. She’s a veteran PTA and classroom volunteer who’s the mother of two girls—an eighth-grader and a fifth-grader—attending MCPS schools. None of that seems to matter, though, when she’s struggling to help her kids with their math homework.

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