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Students and Parents Address Principal Smalley

Below are excerpts of emails from SJHHS students and parents to Principal Smalley, most of whom never received a reply. Because negative feedback was the main focus of social media attention, we wish to bring light to the various positive opinions.

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Art by Lucy Law

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“It should be your duty to protect and support us against the malicious content being thrown at us for only seeking to educate students in a way that teachers, administrators, and adults will not. The strength that the San Juan Hills journalists have is remarkable, to say the least. The young journalists who seek to aid their peers and provide access to free, informative stories should be praised beyond words for creating a safe and accepting space for struggling students.  Mr. Kaiser’s strength illustrates his dedication to this school and his career. To have him shunned and disciplined for representing a student body committed to allowing students the ability to access meaningful facts is appalling.” –Isaiah Yoways, senior

“How are gay students supposed to know to have safe sex when they don’t even get to learn anything about the non traditional forms of sex? To continue, on the story of “Zoe Brooks” in the long term relationship column she discussed that she found herself in an emotionally abusive relationship. How was she supposed to know that she was being emotionally abused if we are never taught what this looks like? We learn from each other. I feel that if you believe the newspaper article about sex should be condemned than there should be more REALISTIC sex education integrated into high school.” –Selin Dogan, senior

“I understand that you’re in a difficult position. I understand that there are many, many upset parents at the content of The Express. But please know that there are just as many parents that are supportive of these kids and their First Amendment Rights. The Express is a student run newspaper and these students are incredibly brave for addressing a topic that most adults are too scared to even let their kids read about! It would have made a huge difference to your students if you had supported them instead of the parents that aren’t able to even talk them about sex. Your students cried out to be heard in this edition of the paper and you shut them down.” -Sarah Goodfellow, parent

“We are the students who are crying out to our parents, to our teachers, to our coaches, to our administrators, to you, because we need to be heard and we need your support. We are the students who are utilizing our platforms to express our rights and vocalize our feelings. We are the students who share our experiences courageously despite facing backlash. But please do not stand with the parents who call our students “whores,” “disgusting,” “uneducated journalists,” or who refer to their hard work as “shameful,” “a disgrace,” and even worse things that I️ wish not to mention. And lastly please address us- the students. Help us as we cry out to you, stand with us so that we feel we are not alone, understand us and think of how you felt when you were our age, and finally please do not take the rage of the parents out on us.” –Makayla Walders, junior

“There is nothing explicit in these articles. None of the students encourage children or other students to have sex. In fact what they all convey is to be safe, to not do anything you are not ready for or comfortable doing, and to not ask someone to do something they are not ready for.  They also convey that students should not be shamed for their decision to have sex or to abstain. As educators you are supposed to encourage journalist students to research, to uncover truths, to sometimes reveal uncomfortable truths and to speak truth to power and to be respectful and true to their subject. These students were respectful and true to the people they interviewed.” -Shelly Welcome, parent

“I am quite alarmed by your biased reliance upon feedback from one group of individuals to claim that the content of the newspaper was disrespectful and sensationalistic. It is anything but that. It is an honest reflection of the pressures and issues that our teenagers are facing and written in an intelligent and forthright manner. It is the absolute epitome of “thoughtful, relevant commentaries on all topics within the bounds of good taste” and should be celebrated, instead of directly attacked by the school’s principal.” –Dr. Paul Fu, parent

“It was disheartening to see our principal siding with parents and bullies that have come for the students and called them numerous names pertaining to this issue of the paper. I think that they are embodying RFTB by putting out informative journalism on topics that need to be discussed and haven’t because of the stigma or taboo they have surrounding them, as said in the paper. It made me quite sad when I saw that you said it was damaging to the brand because I saw it as a way to start a conversation on sex education and comfort with one’s sexuality; I interpreted that there were many students at SJHHS that seemed to be uncomfortable with who they decide to love.” –Eva Benzan, freshman

“As a former student paper editor, a communications major in college, and someone very deeply interested in free press and freedom of expression, I heartily support what the students wrote. There was no R-rated language, unlike today’s major news stories. They were covering a very teen-centric topic in an admirably wide range of views. They covered health and moral issues in a fair manner. I fail to see how this was disrespectful or sensationalistic. I completely understand that parents prefer not to think of their children as sexual beings but I remember being a teen, I know this is an important topic, and I believe the students covered it very well. Forbidding them from covering the topic does not make it go away.” –Corey Henson, parent

“I believe that Riding for the Brand should not be relegated to keeping within the boundaries of controversial topics, and, furthermore, that student journalists and their advisor should not be condemned for practicing their right to freedom of speech, especially when this was all executed in accordance with board policies. It is vital for students to explore different perspectives, arguably more so when they are disagreeable to some readers because conversation is sparked and growth is fostered — it is for these reasons that freedom of the press is such a special and powerful institution!” -Ava Bachelder, junior

“Your email demonstrated that you value the opinions of the parents over those of the very students that you are supposed to help. However, when you attempt to flout your support of the LGBTQ community it is essential that you continue to support them and their stories through the good and the bad. When you claim to support the community with the [2017] Special Report but then denounce John Smith’s and Kevin Landon’s stories, it creates a sense of unwelcomeness and hypocrisy toward my LGBTQ peers and me. If I were one of the brave students who shared their stories and saw your blatantly insulting email, I would feel incredibly unwanted at a school that I attend everyday and by an administration that has immense influence over my life.” –Jake Heron, senior

“I would argue that the actual content of the Relationships and Sex spread is actually extremely beneficial and reaches all ends of the diverse group of students we have here at SJHHS. From addressing the LGBTQA+ [community] to pregnancy scares, this takes a far more intimate and relatable approach than our freshman Health class did. This allows for a wide variety of teenagers to learn more about issues they themselves might be going through, and they might not have the courage or ability to speak with parents or a trusted adult on these topics. This spread allows for kids dealing with these issues to realize that they are not going through them alone.” -Anonynous, sophomore

“Students’ voices are incredibly important on this campus. I’d even argue that they are the most important. I personally thought the edition was in fact ‘valuable’ and a ‘learning experience.’” -Anonymous, senior

These emails were based off of the recent publication of the Relationships and Sex Special Report features and opinion stories.

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