Uncovering details exposing the credentials — or lack of — of a newly hired school principal is good journalism work at any level.
The fact that it was high school newspaper reporters who discovered a number of discrepancies in the information provided by the new Pittsburg, Kansas High School principal makes the work all the more important.
We are proud of the The Booster Redux and its PHS student staff. They dug beyond the surface to discover that Amy Robertson, who had been hired in early March, had received her master’s and doctoral degrees from an unaccredited online school. Robertson resigned from the post on Tuesday night.
While Superintendent Destry Brown said the job was offered to Robertson and her hiring would be contingent on her background check, the school newspaper staff did their own work — meeting with Brown as they asked questions. Then, they broke their story. Brown, instead of rebuffing their efforts, praised them for their willingness to investigate the story.
Some administrations might have tried to stop that story from ever being printed, but thanks to a Kansas law that gives student journalists the same protections as professional journalists, the PHS students were free to pursue and print the story. According to Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, the law protects the liberty of the press in student publications, mandating that school employees cannot suppress content solely because the subject matter will be controversial.
Do we think that a similar story would have made it to print in a Missouri high school newspaper? Probably not, based on discussions we have had for years during our annual high school journalism workshop. Missouri high school students are not protected in the same way their peers in Kansas are.
But there is a bill in the Missouri Legislature called the Cronkite New Voices Act that would give student journalists the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media. In order to do the same type of bold and exemplary reporting as the PHS students have turned in, Missouri students have to be allowed to be journalists.
The nation is sitting up and taking notice of The Booster Redux. The students there are caught up in the passion of reporting. That has made them the focus of stories by The Washington Post, The New York Times and National Public Radio.
Most importantly, they have influenced change. The superintendent says he now plans to change the way the district requests information from job candidates.
Hats off to the staff of the PHS newspaper. They give us all the more reason to applaud the work of a free press.