Student reporters for the Burlington High School Register have been told they can re-post a story critical of a school official that was quashed earlier by Principal Noel Green.
In a statement, the Burlington School District said Green reversed his order that the story be removed from the Register’s website after he “revisited” Act 49, a recent state law that protects student journalists from censure by administrators.
The Register broke the news earlier this week that the Vermont Department of Education had recommended that the school’s director of guidance lose his license for one year. Reporters had obtained documents through a public records request and posted the story Monday.
Student reporters said Green then ordered them to remove the story, which detailed the allegations of unprofessional conduct against Mario Macias.
On Thursday, the school district — which supported Green’s decision to order the story removed — said Green had reviewed Act 49 and decided the Register’s story fell under its protection.
“As a learning community, the District is grateful for work of the students at the BHS Register and the dialogue that has been created between the students and administration because of this issue,” the statement said.
On Thursday, the Vermont Press Association and the New England First Amendment Coalition condemned the incident in a statement that also questioned whether school or district officials were familiar with Act 49, also known as the New Voices Law.
“It now appears the censorship was due to a complete misinterpretation of one section of the law by the BHS principal. There was no ‘imminent danger of materially or substantially disrupting the ability of the school to perform its educational mission.’ There was no thought of any riot, fight or threat of violence.”
The statement also asked that the District, Green and Superintendent Yaw Obeng each to write letters of apology to theRegister’s student journalists “for misunderstanding/misinterpreting an important student education law.”
Mike Donoghue, executive director of the VPA, said the law focuses on prior restraint – shutting down a story befire its published.
“But clearly, the law is designed to also cover censorship and protect students, and their advisor or teacher, who is helping them,” he said. “Because teachers have been fired because of things printed.”
Shannon-Grillo said Burlington High students had a right to know about the allegations against the school’s guidance director.
“All important stories create some sort of effect, and that doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t be published. We had to look at it as journalists and what we saw was a story that needed to be shared.”
The students say they are meeting with Green on Friday, and that they’ve been in touch with a lawyer from the Student Press Law Center.