Student reporters from the Burlington High School Register criticized school and district officials for how they handled a story detailing allegations against a school official.
Meanwhile, parents at Thursday’s school board meeting described some of the interactions with the official, Mario Macias, guidance director at the high school. Macias faces a year’s suspension of his license by the Vermont Department of Education for allegedly creating a hostile workplace.
Parents told board members Macias failed to return multiple e-mails and did not adequately inform students about college fairs and other opportunities. Caroline Crawford, whose son who recently graduated from Burlington High, said Macias didn’t do enough to prepare him for college.
“He didn’t know about the college fair, he didn’t know how to answer my questions, and that terrified me,” Crawford said. “I have a senior getting ready to graduate and go on to college without a guidance counselor who could walk him through the most simple steps of the process.”
The Register’s story, which involved documents obtained by a public records request, was published Monday. On Tuesday, Principal Noel Green ordered it taken off the website.
Green and the district retreated Thursday, and in statement said Green reversed his decision after he “revisited” Act 49, or the New Voices Law, which protects student journalism from censorship by administrators.
The Register has yet to repost the story. A headline on the website says, ‘This article has been censored by Burlington High School administration.’
Julia Shannon-Grillo, a Register editor, told the school board that the district’s statement “fails to show an understanding of our rights under Vermont law.
“While it is kind of Mr. Green to lift his ban on this one story, what we would appreciate more is if the Burlington School District did not break the law.”
Also on Thursday, the Vermont Press Association released a statement calling on Burlington School District to:
- Repost the news story about the investigation immediately to the Register website and let it remain in the archive
- Agree in writing to follow the Vermont law known as “New Voices” that ensures the First Amendment for students and teachers/advisers without fear of retaliation
- Work with the Vermont Press Association and other First Amendment groups to sponsor training for at least northwestern Vermont school district leaders so there is not a repeat performance in Burlington or a nearby school
- Write letters of apology to the student journalists for misunderstanding/misinterpreting an important student education law.
Following the public comments at Thursday’s meeting, Superintendent Yaw Obeng did not directly address the Register story or the aftermath of its publication.
“I’d like to thank everyone who came out to share their thoughts around all the various topics that were shared,” he said. “We do have processes that we have to follow, and that may mean that we can’t share information with you when you’d like it, or take the action that you’d like.”
Editors from the Register are expected to meet with Green on Friday.