Few principals welcome controversy. Yet they hire yearbook and newspaper advisers to teach journalism — which sometimes involves stirring up controversy.
Michelle Coro, former yearbook adviser at Gilbert’s Mesquite High School, knows firsthand that this places publications advisers in a precarious position. In 2002, she lost her yearbook assignment after her students wrote about dating taboos, and parents complained.
Coro now advises the student newspaper at Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee Foothills, where she said the principal is more comfortable with a diversity of viewpoints from students.
"Sometimes administrators get nervous," Coro said. "They want high school publications to be PR tools."
Students at Fremont Junior High School in Mesa agreed. Last month, their principal blocked the circulation of the school newspaper after he deemed certain opinion columns to be inappropriate.
Freshman Kristen DeBenom, 15, the newspaper’s editor, said the incident sent the message to students that their opinions are not valid.
"Nobody’s listening. Nobody cares," DeBenom said.
Fremont principal Dwayne Priester was out of town last week and was unavailable for comment. Linda Rottman, assistant superintendent for the Mesa Unified School District, said Priester expressed concern to her that at least one column in the newspaper might have stirred racial tension on campus.
Other East Valley principals said they take a range of approaches with their student publications.
Marcos de Niza High School principal Frank Marizio in Tempe said he sits down with the newspaper staff at the start of every year and establishes clear guidelines. As long as students stay within those guidelines, he said, they are free to disagree with school policies and write about controversial topics.
Mark Olderog, principal of Mesa’s Red Mountain High School, said he also gives his students leeway to express a range of viewpoints.
"We allow them to vent, as long as it’s not detrimental to the overall functioning of the school," he said. "We don’t want to stifle their right to free speech."
Olderog said he has a welltrained newspaper adviser at Red Mountain and therefore does not need to maintain tight control over the publication.
Arizona Interscholastic Press Association president Peggy Gregory said many principals across the state do not want journalism advisers who teach journalism — and those who do risk losing their jobs.