Mark Robertson, the principal of Lake Washington High School—where the controversial Antioch Bible Church meets in the gym every Sunday [see "School Spirit," Sept 29]—tries to keep his roles as the school's leader and a member of the controversial church separate.
His roles may have blurred last June, though, when Molly Silver—who was coeditor-in-chief of the school's newspaper, the Limited Edition—wrote an opinion piece about Antioch. Her journalism adviser killed it. Silver suspects that's because Robertson attends Antioch. Moreover, he and the church's leader, Ken Hutcherson—the outspoken preacher who's leapt into national politics on an antigay platform—are reportedly friends.
Silver is a freshman at New York University now, studying journalism. Last May, while she was still a LWHS student, Silver read stories about Hutcherson lobbying Microsoft to withdraw its support of Washington State's proposed antidiscrimination bill. Those stories also referenced Lake Washington High School. "On the day that the New York Times spotlighted it, I realized that barely anyone at my school was aware of the travesty that was occurring in our gym every Sunday, though it had reached the status of national news," Silver says.
Silver already knew about Antioch's Lake Washington High School connection—she and other newspaper staffers were often in the school on Sundays putting the finishing touches on the paper, and they'd see Antioch members roaming the halls. "We had to sometimes kick them out, because we would need the journalism classroom," she says. "It pissed me off that these bigots had rights to use our school, though I knew it was completely legal."
So Silver decided to write an op-ed piece based on the national news stories; she wanted her classmates to know that Antioch met in their public school. "I was saying that it's sad for us as students that we have to have that kind of mark on our school," she explains.
She spent three days writing the piece, even working on it during lunch and AP English. A few days later, she found out her piece was on the chopping block.
The paper's adviser, Kathryn Colbrese, told Silver why she cut the piece: "She didn't trust my research and was afraid of getting sued," Silver explains. "She thought that it wasn't fair to base my article partly on the article in the Times." Silver says she gave the other papers, like the New York Times, credit.
The adviser and principal, however, say Silver's subject wasn't the problem, it was the way she wrote it. They say she cribbed it from other news stories. "It just never went in because it was completely plagiarized," the adviser says. "She took it directly from the Seattle Times, word for word." Colbrese says she gave Silver "some options" for the piece, "and she didn't do anything with it." (Silver denies that story and the plagiarism charge.)
High-school administrators can cut stories that may interfere with the school's educational environment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1988. And certainly, plagiarism or libel problems are legitimate reasons for a high-school adviser to flag a story. But citing outside news articles in an opinion piece—as Silver says she did—is a common practice, one that shouldn't have automatically killed the story.
Ed Johnson, a student who also worked on the newspaper last year (he's now a freshman at Portland State University, studying graphic arts), was in the classroom when Silver's piece was discussed. "When I read it, I thought it should have gone into the paper. But [Colbrese] decided it was too controversial, too insulting to the person, and it wouldn't go into the paper," he says. He's not sure if Robertson or his church membership had anything to do with the decision, but adds, "I know that it was discussed that he was friends with Ken Hutcherson."
Colbrese says Robertson's Antioch affiliation had nothing to do with her decision. School district spokesperson Kathryn Reith says Robertson also offered to set Silver up with Hutcherson for an interview, "so she could get her own quotes." She says Silver didn't take up the offer.
(For her part, an angry Silver says school officials made no such offer.)