The Express’ Open Letter to Principal Smalley
In response to Principal Smalley's email to SJHHS' parents, The Express emailed the following to address the backlash and misrepresentation of the special report.
March 15, 2018
Dear Principal Smalley:
We are saddened and hurt by the response we have received from you in regards to our latest print edition. This edition has been brainstormed for almost a full year, and we put numerous hours into its creation. As our principal, your opinion often holds more weight among parents and the community because you are considered the leader of the school. Therefore, calling students’ experiences “disrespectful and sensationalistic” was perceived as insensitive and insulting by The Express and the subjects of our center spread.
First and foremost, we are frustrated that you did not communicate with us before sending out a mass email to all parents. Throughout the year we have sought to emphasize that this is a student publication, and that if there are issues with our content, then our Editors-in-Chief should be the ones contacted with the complaints. As journalists, we were careful to report only on the realities of students with the most relevant and diverse experiences on campus. We checked multiple times with our sources to maintain that our stories were correct before publication. Your claim that we “failed to meet this responsibility” is extremely discouraging, as is your assumption of the manner and dedication in which we wrote these stories.
After this incident, we are disappointed that you believe The Brand should blatantly dismiss students and shun them simply for their sexual experiences. In reality, The Brand is one of inclusion and education, and seeks to “respect and include those from all backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives.” Considering the stigma against LGBTQ+ relationships in society as a whole, we are distressed that you treated these students’ testimonies as something to be ashamed of.
The purpose of this special report was to “provide a thoughtful, relevant commentary” on real student experiences, and we took great care to involve all sides of this topic in order to create a complete and thorough report on a subject that is rarely discussed by educational authorities to the detriment of the students. While it is true that we discussed the sexual activities of students at San Juan Hills High School, we also published stories about a couple who chose to abstain from sexual intercouse until marriage and a young woman who openly admitted that sex caused the downfall of her relationship. In addition, no specific or grotesque actions were disclosed in order to keep these articles “within the bounds of good taste.” We took great care to write about the consequences of sex in order to provide a complete picture of what this sensitive topic entails. According to the CUSD board policy on health education, “Lack of information or pervasive misinformation can cause low self-confidence, increased risk for sexually transmitted disease and infection, unintended pregnancy or sterility, and school drop out.” (BP 6142.1) By writing this special report, we hope to combat these terrible consequences and improve the student body as a whole.
We feel most of the controversy surrounding this piece is the result of angry parents who prematurely reacted to headlines they saw on social media before taking the time to read the stories in full. Rather than cave to the demands of the mob mentality, which would set a dangerous precedent for future publications and other school activities, it is important to embrace and discuss controversial issues, as recommended in the CUSD Board Policy 6144. This states “The Governing Board believes that students should have opportunities to discuss controversial issues which have political, social or economic significance and which the students are mature enough to investigate and address.” Our Special Report that discusses the heavy social topics of sex and relationships for high schoolers was approached maturely and with extreme sensitivity.
As California Education Code 48907 states, we have the right to publish material so long as it is not “obscene, libelous, or slanderous,” does not cause a material and substantial disruption of school activities, or is an invasion of the rights of others. Knowing this, we took the precautions necessary to ensure that our articles did not violate any of these clauses and upheld the principles of good journalism. As our disclaimer stated, “The following special report highlights the realities of relationships and sex for high school students today. The content contains anonymous testimonials from students and opinions about stigmatization of sex culture. The features reflect each student’s personal experiences and opinions and should not be taken as a universal truth.”
We are troubled that, not only did you fail to defend the student press that simply expressed freedom of the press that is so vital to this country, but you also failed to defend our newspaper advisor, Bill Kaiser. Mr. Kaiser has done his job admirably, and we would like to remind you that it is not his duty to control what our content is, nor report to the administration on what our activities are, as that would undermine the purpose of a student-run newspaper. When you insinuated in an email that was sent out to parents and faculty of San Juan Hills High School that our faculty advisor failed to “maintain professional standards of English and journalism,” we interpreted it as an attack on a staff member that has been the utmost professional in both his teaching and advisory roles.
In conclusion, The Express formally requests a public statement of support of the Relationships and Sex Special Report. Thank you for taking the time to read our statement and we hope that this incident will not damage the relationship between The Express and the administration that has been strengthened over the last several years. We are looking forward to your timely response, and the opportunity to discuss this issue with you in person.
The Express Editorial Board