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Student Journalists Launch Website After They Say School Censored Their Paper


Now we have the story of a high school student newspaper. The students found a story so explosive it was hard to keep the story published. The editor, Max Gordon, grew curious about a mystery at Herriman High in Utah.

MAX GORDON: We had a teacher - he was a very popular teacher at our school - that one day stopped showing up to school.

INSKEEP: The student paper who was the paper's news editor, Conor Spahr, took the lead in reporting a story of the teacher. The school said the teacher left for medical reasons. But in talking with people around the school, the students heard otherwise.

CONOR SPAHR: So it was all basically the same thing - that he had been fired. But there weren't really any confirmations. So we filed some open records requests to the Jordan School District. And then we also filed an open record request to Providence Hall, which was his former employer. We didn't get a specific reason for dismissal, but we confirmed that he was fired from Herriman High School and his last school.

INSKEEP: What did you do then?

SPAHR: Also on the record in Providence, we found some employee conduct policy. And certain policies were highlighted, and they seemed to be infractions he had committed and essentially the reasons he was fired.

INSKEEP: So you began to have an idea that he had done what?

SPAHR: It kind of just confirmed what we were looking into and that was that he was fired for inappropriate conduct.

INSKEEP: Did you learn any more detail about what the alleged inappropriate conduct was?

SPAHR: Yes. So we had a student body officer who came forward to us and told us a teacher came to them and told them why the teacher was fired, and in short, told us that he was fired for inappropriately texting students, specifically girls.

INSKEEP: What did you do with this information?

SPAHR: We put it in a story. We immediately submitted the article to the online, like we had done in the past. And once that started getting attention, the school administration took our articles off the website and then later shut our website completely down.

INSKEEP: Was the administration the principal or anyone more specific about what their objection was?

SPAHR: We have not directly heard from the administration. We've sent them three emails up to this point asking for specifics about why our article was taken down. However, they have released statements to the press. They have said that they wanted to avoid inaccuracies in publications.

INSKEEP: I can see a dilemma here for a school administration. They, for legal and other reasons, need to be exceedingly careful about what kind of information they release about a former employee. At the same time, there they are encouraging you to run a newspaper, which is encouraging you to learn how to use the First Amendment.

SPAHR: Yeah. There is a little contradiction there. And if they had come forward to us and said, can you hold on on this article or when they took it down they said, OK, hey, we just want to make sure this is all legally correct or we're not going to get in any trouble here, then we would have complied for sure. We would have said, OK, we can hold off for a couple of weeks. We can wait. But they never came forward. There's been no communication.

INSKEEP: Have you tried alternative ways to publicize your story?

SPAHR: We have. The same day it was taken down, I created a website. We just wanted to really get the story back up online so people could read it. And that was our main goal. And we got that up on the same day. We called it the herrimantelegram.com, and it's turning out great. For perspective, our official school website would average around 10 hits per day, but the alternate website in which we've created has received over 35,000 hits in just under a week.

INSKEEP: What, if anything, do you believe the school administration owes you as journalists and owes you as students of the school?

SPAHR: We just want an explanation for why it was taken down at the very least. We want some insight into whatever inaccuracies that they were referring to. And our main goal is to get our website back. I just hope in the future that the administration will be more open to what we're investigating instead of just completely closing themselves off. Maybe they'll help us and guide us. And if there is a reason why we shouldn't be looking into this or that we are going down the wrong path as far as accuracy goes, we hope that they'll just tell us that.

INSKEEP: We've been talking with Max Gordon and Conor Spahr, students at Herriman High School in Utah who work for the student paper, The Telegraph, and have founded their own website, The Telegram. Thanks, guys.

GORDON: Thank you.

SPAHR: Thanks.


INSKEEP: Now, we asked the Jordan School District for insight into this story, and the district sent a statement that did not directly address the high school paper's reporting. The school district does say that Jordan School District encourages thought-provoking, informative and accurate reporting, and students, school advisers and administrators are responsible for making every story meet those expectations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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