By Emily Hayward
When Carl Schimmel, a staff writer for the Dexter High School newspaper, helped complete the February 2010 issue of The Squall, he hoped that people would appreciate his hard work; instead, a scandal arose.
“It all got really crazy really fast,” Schimmel said. “Before I knew it, everyone was talking about it, and it was everyone’s Facebook status.”
On page four of their February issue, The Squall printed an article, as well as photos, about Club Crome, a popular attraction for many Dexter students since it does not have dance restrictions and the school had recently tightened its policies.
Although Schimmel said the writer was careful to be keep his story balanced, some community members were outraged that the paper was covering controversial topics.
“Almost every high school kid rebels a little bit,” Schimmel said. “And there are always parents or people who will try to change or control that. Even though we weren’t promoting the club, there were people who were upset we were even mentioning that kids were going there.”
The Squall is not the only high school newspaper facing journalistic difficulties, according to the Student Press Law Center. In June, Bozeman High School’s Hawk Talk took flak from the school administration for discovering the school’s cover up of its athletes’ grades. When West Covina High School’s Newsbytes reported the superintendent’s disapproval of the school’s classrooms, the paper’s adviser was replaced. However, the situation at Dexter may differ because of the uproar it has created in the community.
“The parents who were upset claimed that teenagers aren’t responsible enough to run a newspaper and can’t be trusted,” editor-in-chief Alex Everard said. “But I think the newspaper has a responsibility to inform people about what’s going on, no matter what. The story was about the fact that there were only four students at the school dance, which was an issue for Dexter.
To find the cause of that, we went out and learned that the students didn’t like the school’s dance rules. So what were they doing about the dance rules? Going to the club 20 minutes Everard said that in order to best show people the cause of the problem, it was important to print a picture of the type of dancing that the students favored, “grinding” – a picture that found itself at the root of the community’s anger.
“We could have gotten pictures of the kids just standing in line or entering a club,” Everard said. “But the ugly truth was that the grinding was the reason they were going there, so that’s what we had to show. I think maybe people were just too shocked to look past it.”
One group of parents was so shocked that they created a website, cleanupdhs.blogspot.com, advocating censorship at Dexter so that the paper could not print anything controversial. Throughout the summer, members of The Squall staff, as well as students and parents who support them, have been attending school board meetings and trying to keep the paper’s journalistic freedom.
“I got up and spoke at some of the board meetings,” Schimmel said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do. You have to call out people when they’re wrong, even if it’s a parent, because it’s never just one thing. Some of the stuff that they were complaining about was just unreasonable. If you let the crazy parents control the situation, things will start piling up.”
This may already be the case at Dexter, as unsatisfied parents challenged other parts of The Squall as well.
A particular spread that these parents did not approve of appeared in the May 2009 issue. To accompany a story about teenage drinking, The Squall printed pictures of alcohol bottles. According to Schimmel, the parents were outraged.
“They freaked out, but it was really no big deal,” Schimmel said. “We just covered it because it happens; people drink and do those kinds of things in high school. Refusing to publish those stories won’t change the fact that they are happening.”
While the situation may be tough to handle, Dexter adviser Rod Satterthwaite is proud of the approach that his staff has taken.
“The kids have been amazing,” Satterthwaite said. “I couldn’t have asked for them to have handled it any better. They’ve really taken the lead and gone to all of the meetings with a professional, mature attitude. They’ve been awesome.”
So far, a decision regarding the potential censorship of The Squall has not been reached. Still, many staff members remain hopeful.
“It was easier for our staff to deal with everything than the parents because we’re just trying to keep things the way they were,” Schimmel said. “So the outlook seems good, but we’re still unsure. All I know is that The Squall reported the truth, and there’s never anything wrong with that – even if it makes some people angry.”