Texas high-school principal fires award-winning, nationally famous journalism teacher to rein in critical student newspaper reporting

Dallas-Fort Worth's Prosper High School has an excellent student paper, the Eagle Nation Online, with a most excellent advisor, Lori Oglesbee-Petter, a journalism teacher with 34 years of experience, whose students won 175 state and national journalism awards last year alone.

She's been fired by John Burdett, the school's new principal, who also intervened in the paper's editorial process three times last year in order to censor the student journalists. Burdett had ordered the paper's staff to submit any articles that violated "community norms" to him for editorial approval. Lacking any clarity on what constituted "community norms," the paper's staff began to seek Burdett's approval for all articles.

Oglesbee-Petter's teaching contract prevents her from talking to the press about the circumstances under which her contract was not renewed for the coming year, but the student journalists who worked with her say that the firing is in retaliation for her encouragement of critical thinking and hard-hitting journalism that investigated and questioned the authorities in the school. In this academic year, Burdett had censored articles about removing "A Separate Peace" from the curriculum, and the arbitrary cancellation of a senior class movie night; and an editorial that criticized Burdett's response to the Parkland school shooting as "disorganized and vague."

Burdett then permanently banned editorials from being published in the paper.

"You have a principal that is upset that the teacher is not teaching how to produce fake news," Hiestand said. "He is telling the kids, 'You can publish the news as long as it's happy news.' That is the definition of fake news."

Prosper's prior review policy allows the school's principal ultimate editorial authority, including the right to block stories from being published. The policy states: "All publications edited, printed, or distributed in the name of or within the District schools shall be under the control of the school administration and the Board. All publications approved and issued by individual schools shall be part of the instructional program, under the supervision of a faculty sponsor, and shall be carefully edited to reflect the ideals and expectations of the citizens of the District for their schools."

On May 18, Madhira drafted a press release with the help of Hiestand and JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission Chair Lori Keekley. It explains in detail Burdett's practice of censorship and Oglesbee-Petter's contract termination, as well as the importance of editorials.

“We are not just public relations for the school," Madhira said in the press release. "Not all news will be positive."

Texas principal censors paper, bans all editorials and ousts award-winning adviser [Gabriel Greschler/Student Press Law Center] (Thanks, Robbo!)

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