Palmer Ridge paper endorses a candidate for president

And website comments and social media explode. Colorado law and supportive superintendent and board stem the tide of criticism

Palmer Ridge paper endorses a candidate for president

The editorial board of The Bear Truth, the student newspaper of Palmer Ridge HS, in Monument, anticipated some push back when they voted to run an editorial endorsing the Democratic candidate for president. After all, their community is a reliably Republican area.

They did not anticipate comments on the editorial that ran two or three times as many words as the original endorsement, not did they anticipate the raw anger and name calling that soon flowed through their social media accounts and website comments.

Get a sense of the story

Perhaps you should start from the beginning, by reading the original editorial on their news site. If you have time, scan through the many comments you will find on that site. In the end, there was quite a mix of opinions, and many were supportive of the students and adviser Tom Patrick.

Take a look at The Bear Truth’s Facebook stream here, for more comments, some insightful and some downright ignorant. In a front page story in the Colorado Springs Gazette there was a quote from a local professor in a college communications department saying that students were limited in their right to publish opinions by “a 1998 Supreme Court case.” That professor was unchallenged, though anyone working in student media in Colorado might be expected to know about our Student Freedom of Expression law, passed in 1990.

Adviser Tom Patrick, with the approval of the administration of the school, sent out the following email blast in response to the “firestorm.”

Dear xxxxxxx,

I am the adviser to our student newspaper and I appreciate your concerns. This piece is an editorial and represents the position of The Bear Truth staff. Our student newspaper does not represent the views of the publications adviser, Palmer Ridge High School, or the Lewis-Palmer School District. Student newspapers are protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Colorado Student Free Expression Law.  Editorials appear each month on page 2 of the paper, and the editors work with the entire staff to decide on a topic and formulate a position. I would encourage your students to participate in our Public Forum by submitting Letters to the Editor and/or posting comments on our website, Here are relevant portions from our Editorial Policies which address the issues you raise. I’ve attached our complete policies also. Our policies have been approved by the Lewis-Palmer School District, model those adopted by most high schools in Colorado, and were developed with the assistance of the Colorado Student Media Association.

The Editorial Board retains the right to choose all content and to determine story priority. This Board is composed of students holding the following staff positions: Editor-in-Chief, Assistant Editor, Business Manager, News Editor, Features Editor, Sports Editor, Ridge Ramblings Editor, Entertainment Editor, Student Life Editor, and Copy Editor – with the adviser a non-voting member of the Board. This Board also oversees the finances of the publication as well as various production operations.

The Editorial Board will select editorial topics. These editorials will not be signed by the writer, but will reflect the opinion of the majority of the Editorial Board. The Board takes full responsibility for all editorials.

Any person with an interest in the Palmer Ridge community who has an opinion to be voiced is encouraged to submit letters to the editor. All letters must be signed and should be fewer than 250 words in length. Anonymous letters will not be accepted or printed. If excessive editing is needed, the letter will be returned to the author for corrections. It is preferred that letters be typed, although handwritten copies will be accepted, if legible. The Bear Truth reserves the right to edit any letter for grammatical errors, libelous content or space limitations. Letters may be brought to room A2222, mailed to Palmer Ridge High School, care of The Bear Truth, or e-mailed to the publication. All signatures will be verified through a phone call or personal interview.

Best regards,

Tom Patrick, CJE


Sometimes the timing is just too perfect

Mary Beth Tinker, an 8th grader in 1965, holding the black arm band that eventually led to Tinker v Des Moines Community School District.

Within a week of the publication of the editorial, it was FREE SPEECH WEEK, and on Oct. 20 CSMA hosted J-Day, our annual state conference on the campus of Colorado State University. Our theme? FEARless. During the opening ceremony we found the perfect time to recognize Tom Patrick, and co-editors Evan Ochsner, and Anna Schnelbach with a standing ovation. We presented them with a replica of the black arm band famously worn by Mary Beth Tinker, protesting the war in Vietnam. The arm band was autographed by Mary Beth Tinker.

Tom, Evan and Anna were interviewed by the Denver Post during the conference, and the next morning the Post weighed in on the issue, supporting the students in no uncertain terms.

Spreading the word

Jack Kennedy sent out the following to the CSMA listserv and a slightly modified version to the Journalism Education Association listserv:

Our theme this fall is FEARless, and there have been many examples of fearless reporting and leadership from a variety of Colorado student media this school year. It was the theme of J-Day (which brought 1,365 students and 102 advisers, from 78 schools to CSU yesterday).

fearless-in-foco-stickerBut the most recent example, which has generated a lot of discussion (some well-considered and some a bit over the top and uninformed), surrounds an editorial from “The Bear Truth,” the student newspaper of Palmer Ridge HS.

 We highlighted the courage of the editors, staff, and adviser at J-Day yesterday, and I awoke this morning to read this welcome editorial in the Post.

 I recommend that every media program in the state share this editorial through whatever means you can. I will get it up under our FEARless category on our website later today.

 We need to recognize a couple realities: despite Colorado having passed a Student Freedom of Expression law in 1990, there are still so many of our fellow citizens who are not aware of either the law or of the implications of the law. Having a law has little power if ignorance of that law is allowed to overwhelm student rights.

A second reality is that in 1990 the Denver Post editorial board strongly OPPOSED the Student Freedom of Expression Law. That was bad news for all of us. The good news is that “the arc of history is long but bends toward justice,” as Dr. King stated in regard to a much more fundamental argument about American values and morals.

We should all welcome the position the Denver Post took this morning, and students writing a quick “thanks” to the Post would be an appropriate follow up.

One editorial hardly changes hearts and minds, of course, The fight “on the ground” belongs to our friends on the editorial board of “The Bear Truth,” and they have proven to be up to the task.

One more thing CSMA student media might do is to link to the original editorial and to add your own commentary on the rights of student journalists to express opinions. I want to stress that sharing the editorial does not require agreeing with its conclusions or call to action.

Sharing the original editorial, and sharing the Post’s editorial, provides context to all our readers.

Like the Post, I am proud to stand with “The Bear Truth.” I hope you and your students will consider doing likewise.