EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 7, 2013

Students question 'cut' of newspaper

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — Funding for printing the high school newspaper was up in the air last month, and while students worried the change was in retaliation for certain articles that appeared in the latest edition, the school administration said money was never in jeopardy.

Students and at least one parent feared money was being cut in response to a controversial opinion article published in the fall edition of The Blue & White, Methuen High School’s newspaper, about student dress and behavior, and to a quote attributed to Principal James Giuca in a front page news article.

Giuca said that funding was not cut, only delayed amid a tight budget along with money for other clubs, and that his administration fully supported the newspaper. He told students, the paper’s faculty adviser and The Eagle-Tribune on Dec. 21 that funding would be available as of that day for printing.

“I said I can’t print it for you,” he said, recalling a conversation he had with the paper’s faculty adviser in December. “I don’t have the money.” But he said he spoke with her again a couple weeks later, shortly after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., about including a piece about the shooting in the next edition. Giuca told her he should have money freed up in time, he said.

“Printing the paper was never out of the question,” he said. “What probably happened, people probably said we can’t do the paper. That’s not true. It was just the timing of it.”

However, students said they felt the funding was pulled permanently after an opinion piece that criticized students’ dress and conversation habits drew complaints, and after Giuca took issue with a quote in an article about the high school opening this fall amid a major renovation project.

Kelsey Davis, a sophomore who is in line to become the paper’s editor next year, said the paper’s faculty supervisor, English teacher Vanessa Guthrie, told students that the printing costs could not be covered. Another student said Guthrie told the class on Dec. 13.

”(Guthrie) said it would be cut off and the only way could get a paper out is if we funded it,” Davis said. “She didn’t give a clear explanation. She said Giuca said we couldn’t fund it.”

Guthrie said she could not comment about the funding issue. “Unfortunately, I do not have any details as far as the loss of funding,” she wrote in an email to The Eagle-Tribune on Dec. 19.

Davis said Guthrie told the class that Giuca thought The Blue & White was too negative, and several students believed the funding disappeared because the principal was unhappy with its editorial content.

Students immediately requested permission from the administration to raise money to fund printing costs, according to two separate written requests obtained by The Eagle-Tribune. They were both signed by Guthrie as club adviser on Dec.13 and by Associate Principal Kristen Thomas on Dec. 14. The initials “JG” appear next to Thomas’ signature, though no date accompany them.

Kayla Baglione, a senior and the current editor, said Guthrie told students on Dec. 21, just before school let out for the Christmas break, that funding was available for printing the second edition.

”I feel like he’s trying to shut us up, shut our voices down,” Baglione said, adding she would go ahead her planned fund-raising even though the school restored printing costs.

One issue with the Fall 2012 edition was an opinion piece, titled “A Plea for Student Decency,” written by a student that criticized other students for swearing and talking about drugs in the hallway and verbally abusing teachers, while urging them to grow up and take the school seriously.

Davis and Giuca said students upset at that article threw away a number of newspapers. Baglione thought the administration had removed the edition and told students not to read it. Giuca said the administration did not remove any papers, and would make sure students did not destroy any future editions.

Another issue centered on a quote in a front page article, titled “Successful School Opening Amid Construction,” attributed to Giuca saying construction was six months behind. Giuca said he did say that, but the author did not include the rest of his comments that explained how the new contractor changed the construction planning to make up the six month loss caused by the firing of the previous contractor.

Officials with the city, the school department and contractor Consigli Construction have said the project is on schedule to be completed in the summer of 2014.

Giuca said he did not have an issue with the editorial content, though he does review the paper before it is published.

”I like to get an advance copy to look at it to make sure there’s nothing in there that’s offensive to students or that’s factually inaccurate,” Giuca said. While he wished spelling and grammar was tighter, he said he did not have a problem with the content and did not change anything.

Recently, The Blue & White has evolved, going from being a handful of pages printed on paper to a dozen-plus pages on newsprint paper. The Fall 2012 edition, which was released in November, was 16 pages. The paper has a student editor and a number of student writers, along with Guthrie as a faculty adviser.

The winter edition is expected to be released soon, students said.

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