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New Policies Coming to Vt. School Following Claims of Student Censorship

Editors of the student newspaper at Burlington High School are welcoming an invitation from the Vermont city's school district to participate in designing new policies around student journalism after young reporters said they were censored last week.

"We are excited to work with them to create a new policy, for sure," Jenna Peterson, one of the co-editors of The Register, said of district and school administrators.

The student paper broke big news last week when it published a list of professional misconduct charges against a guidance counselor levied by Vermont's education agency.

The state allegations against Mario Macias included claims of incompetence, falsifying student records and mistreatment of co-workers.

Macias denies the allegations and has been placed on administrative leave from Burlington High School pending the resolution of the case.

The school's interim principal, Noel Green, initially called for the article's removal, though.

According to a school district spokesman, Green believed he was well within his authority to do so under Vermont's "New Voices" law.

That law aims to ensure free speech and press protections in public schools.

The district spokesman said Green considered the law at great length and determined the students' revelation was "substantially disrupting the ability of the school to perform its educational mission," which is listed as an exception to the New Voices law in state statute.

At a sometimes fiery school board meeting last week, one parent even likened the handling of the article to President Donald Trump's complaints about news coverage he doesn't like.

"Deflect, deny, suppress or undermine the media," mom Rita Markley said Thursday night of the actions of removing the post. "That mirrors all too closely what's happening in Washington right now. But it's heartbreaking to see this occurring here in Burlington."

The district issued a statement over the weekend saying all previous policies about articles in the student newspaper are no longer in effect.

"We definitely appreciated that statement," Julia Shannon-Grillo, another of The Register's co-editors, said Monday.

The students' original report is back up after mainstream media attention on the case.

The district said attention from area newspapers and radio and television stations meant The Register's post was no longer the sole source of school disruption, so the post could be republished online.

Additionally, the district is now pledging to work with the student paper, First Amendment experts, and others on designing new policies that jive with Vermont's New Voices law.

"Standing up for our Constitutional right is incredibly important," Shannon-Grillo said Monday, reacting to the announcement over the weekend of a student-centered policy-making process.

The Vermont Press Association and New England First Amendment Coalition said in a joint statement that this "can be a 'teachable moment,' not only for Burlington School officials, but students, educators and school board members across the state."

The co-editors of The Register promised to keep covering this issue, as well as the situation in the guidance department, and anything else happening in their school.

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