Utah high school censors student newspaper story about a teacher under investigation
First posted October 30, 2018 7:57pm EDT
Last updated July 1, 2019 12:20pm EDT
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After the student newspaper at Herriman High School in Utah published a story about a popular teacher who had left his position without warning, the school temporarily shut down the paper and took control of its website and social media accounts. Administrators prevented the student newspaper from releasing the story.
The Telegraph is the student-run newspaper at Herriman High School, which has 3,000 students and is part of the Jordan School District in Herriman, Utah, a city roughly 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The paper publishes a physical copy once every academic quarter but regularly posts stories on its website.
Conor Spahr, a senior at Herriman High school at the time of the incident, was news editor of The Telegraph and wrote the story about the teacher in question. Spahr and fellow student journalist Max Gordon, who was editor-in-chief of The Telegraph at the time, purchased a new website domain after the school administration took control of the paper and its social media channels. It was on this new website, The Herriman Telegram, that the two students reposted their original story. Both students have since graduated, with Gordon having enrolled in New York University’s Stern School of Business.
In November 2017, Herriman High School history teacher Ryan White abruptly left his position at the school. He was well-liked, according to The Washington Post. Rumors swirled as to why he had left, and student journalists, wanting to know more, began digging into the story. Spahr submitted public records requests and interviewed high school’s administrators, but many of his questions went unanswered.
After a month and a half of investigation, these efforts culminated in January 2018, when The Telegraph published a story entitled “Herriman High Teacher Fired for Misconduct.” Aspects of the story corroborated allegations that surfaced during an investigation by the police and State Board of Education, in which an unnamed local teacher was being accused of having sent inappropriate messages to a student since the previous school year. The day after the article’s Jan. 18 release, Herriman administrators removed it from The Telegraph’s website and revoked website access for Spahr and Gordon. Before posting the story, they had shown it to a faculty adviser and the school’s vice president, neither of whom had any objections to it.
The two student journalists, worried that their work would fail to reach an audience, purchased a new web domain to publish the story on their own. On Jan. 21, their original article was posted on the end product of their hasty efforts, The Herriman Telegram. It was still there as of June 2019, though the site says The Telegram is no longer in operation.
Jordan District officials commented neither on the allegations surrounding the teacher nor the article that had been taken down, according to The Washington Post. They did, however, assert the following in a statement: “Jordan School District encourages thought-provoking, informative and accurate reporting of all stories in our school newspapers.”
Open letter calls for full return of student newspaper to students
Spahr and Gordon wrote an open letter to the Jordan School District, requesting that the high school return student access to The Telegraph’s website and social media accounts, so that they could repost the story and avoid any further administrative censorship. By July 2018, the petition had garnered more than a thousand student signatures.
Website returns without controversial post
School administrators made The Telegraph’s website live again on Jan. 22, 2018, just days after taking it over and removing the story. However, they did not permit access to student journalists, and the article at the heart of this incident remains absent from the official website. By October 2018, the students’ website access had been restored.