Squashed High School Newspaper Story Raises Questions Of Censorship

Sep 17, 2018

Burlington High School’s director of guidance, Mario Macias, faces six charges of unprofessional conduct from the Agency of Education. The school paper, the BHS Register, broke the story last week, but for a time you couldn't read it there. That's because within 24 hours of publication, the story had disappeared from the paper's website, replaced with a mostly blank page with the words: “This article has been censored by Burlington High School administration.” 

Other outlets confirmed the Register’s reporting. In a reversal last week, the district allowed the story to be republished on the Register's website.

But the way BHS Principal Noel Green and the Burlington School District handled the student journalism is coming under increasing scrutiny, and it may have even violated Vermont law.

In a release, the school district said Green "asked [the] students to remove the story" because he deemed it to be “substantially disrupting the ability of the school to perform its educational mission.” Such disruption could allow the story to be removed under Vermont's Act 49, a 2017 law protecting school-sponsored media from administrative censorship.

The student editors of the paper disagreed, telling reporters the administration's "ask" was understood as an order.

BHS junior Julia Shannon-Grillo, one of four editors who wrote the article, says the district's response to the story, and the ultimate reversal to allow it to be republished, doesn't give her confidence for future stories.

"It would be reassuring for them to acknowledge that they did break that law," Shannon-Grillo said. "In order for us to feel secure in publishing future stories, that it won't happen again. That was really what we were hoping to have come out of this," she added.

"We're still not feeling super safe in our future publications." 

VT Digger reporter Aidan Quigley has been reporting on the story and joins Vermont Edition to offer insight into how the original Register story was published, removed and republished, and what legal experts are saying about whether or not the removal violated Vermont law.

Broadcast live on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.