School newspaper reignites tensions
Some journalism students and their teacher at Basalt High School are under fire for publishing a story that reignited a controversy over a math teacher’s lawsuit against the school principal.The staff of the Longhorn Stampede ran a story in their monthly edition Tuesday that recounted teacher Bill Miller’s lawsuit against Principal Jim Waddick. Miller’s lawsuit alleged Waddick grabbed him in anger because Waddick was upset over his daughter’s lack of playing time on a girls volleyball team that Miller coaches.Miller is seeking at least $100,000 for alleged emotional distress.Both Aspen newspapers published stories about the lawsuit Jan. 26. The Longhorn Stampede staff felt the topic was still relevant because this was their first chance to cover it since the lawsuit was filed, according to Michelle Brune, who teaches the school newspaper class.In addition, Brune said, the staff felt an article could dispel some rumors still circulating about the lawsuit.Unfortunately, she said, the goal wasn’t accomplished. “The issue had pretty much calmed down then we came along and raised a ruckus,” Brune said. “Everybody’s talking about it. It ended up being divisive.”The article had some provocative touches. The headline used Miller’s nickname, “Bill Mill,” which Brune said was “unprofessional.” It also ran side-by-side pictures of the two men and said in a caption, “This is probably the closest they have been all year long.”The biggest mistake, Brune said, was failing to contact Miller and Waddick in advance of the article running.”This whole thing makes me feel kicked in the teeth,” said Waddick, referring to the alleged incident and all the coverage.He said he was hurt by the article in the school newspaper because he wasn’t contacted in advance. Waddick said he couldn’t have commented on the lawsuit on the advice of his attorney, but he would have liked to know what was coming.The Longhorn Stampede ran as an insert to The Aspen Times on Tuesday.Waddick said the article also put him in an awkward position because he couldn’t address it as an administrator with the teacher and students because he was the subject. He said he did discuss the article with the writer, Ryan Janckila, a junior.”He came in to talk. I just pretty much told him how I feel about it,” Waddick said.Janckila wrote a letter to the editor of The Aspen Times apologizing for most of the article. He said no one asked him to apologize. “I did that of my own free will,” he said.In retrospect the article shouldn’t have run because it is “damaging” to the school and to Waddick, Janckila said. He stood behind statements in the article that encouraged the staff and teachers to put aside their differences and try to get along. However, Janckila said he didn’t think the article would ease the tensions that exist.Miller said he wasn’t contacted in advance of the story so he was caught off guard when it appeared. A quote from him was attributed as a statement he made in math class.Miller said he talked to Janckila about the article after it appeared, but he said the details of the conversations were between them.”I think they were going to issue some retractions on a couple of things that were inaccurate,” Miller said. He wouldn’t say what he thought was inaccurate.Miller said he gets along well with Janckila and doesn’t hold a grudge against the student reporter.”I don’t think he meant any harm by it,” Miller said. “He was working on a class project and things got out of hand.”Brune said it still must be determined if retractions will be printed in the April edition of the Longhorn Stampede. Running something else might just keep the controversy alive.Brune said she didn’t feel Miller used his position of authority to address the issue with Janckila or other students.”I would not say he’s bullying anyone into retractions,” Brune said.She said she hasn’t discussed the article with Miller or Waddick but was contacted by assistant principal Karen Harvey about the article.When asked if anyone will be in trouble for publishing the story, Brune said, “At this point I don’t know the answer to that. Nobody came to me with a discipline issue.”Waddick said if the article didn’t pertain to him, he would have asked questions of the students and teacher but wouldn’t have challenged their right to freedom of speech. He said he figures that when teachers and students ask all the right questions before undertaking a project, the students will arrive at the right answers. He said he isn’t sure that happened in this case.Brune said her class discussed the lawsuit issue thoroughly. Some students wanted to write editorials about it; she would only allow an article that made it clear that Miller’s lawsuit contained allegations.Nevertheless, in retrospect, Brune said the coverage should have been different. She said the class will tackle the tough issues and resolve problems they created. “Did we ask for this? Yeah we did,” Brune said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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