HSJ Headline News
Read editor's Pirate Press statement to Boonville School Board
Boonville (Mo.) Daily News
October 22, 2009
This is the prepared statement on The Pirate Press given by Nate Birt during the Boonville School Board's meeting Wednesday.
President Campbell, Vice President Melkersman, members of the Boonville School Board, Superintendent Ficken and Boonville taxpayers: My name is Nate Birt, and I am the news and online editor at the Boonville Daily News.
Most of you, I am sure, are familiar with the topic about which I am seeking answers tonight. The topic is the decision by Mr. Ficken to stop distribution of some copies of The Pirate Press, Boonville High School's student newspaper.
I would ask that you listen to my statement and make note of the questions I will present to you. Then, I would ask that you answer those questions in the public portion of this meeting for the benefit of your constituents and the taxpayers of this community.
I emphasize that those answers be made in public because my office received two versions of tonight's agenda, one on Friday and the other yesterday. While the first agenda noted that the closed session of tonight's meeting would address personnel issues, the updated version states that legal issues and student issues of some kind also are to be addressed in that closed session.
While the laws of the state of Missouri respect the need for privacy on some issues, I would encourage you to say as much as you possibly can tonight in a public setting. If any part of the scheduled closed session is related to the events surrounding The Pirate Press, I would urge you to discuss what you can. The Missouri Revised Statutes Chapter 610.021 subsection 3 requires that "any vote on a final decision, when taken by a public governmental body, to hire, fire, promote or discipline an employee of a public governmental body shall be made available with a record of how each member voted to the public within 72 hours of the close of the meeting where such action occurs."
On Oct. 2, Mr. Ficken told me that he had initially asked that copies of the paper be removed from the high school. That effort was later called off, he said. However, several hundred copies of the student paper were not distributed, as they normally are, to Boonville subscribers to my paper, at Mr. Ficken's request.
Mr. Ficken told me that it has been district protocol for three or four years that the high school principal review the paper before it is printed. Mr. Ficken told me that he had asked that distribution be stopped because Mr. Jay Webster, principal of Boonville High School, called him and said that he had not reviewed the paper before it was printed.
Mr. Webster has declined to comment on the subject. Journalism teacher Stephanie Carey has not returned my phone calls.
Pirate Press editor-in-chief Emily Voss told me that Mr. Webster had indicated to her and Mrs. Carey that he had both reviewed and approved of the paper. Voss has said that Mr. Webster approved the paper in some fashion after it was sent to be printed but, as I understand it, before it was distributed to anyone.
On Oct. 12, in an effort to clarify the series of events that led to these distribution decisions, I filed a Missouri Sunshine Law request for public records with the school district.
Vice President Melkersman and Board Member Lammers have both indicated that they support Mr. Ficken decisions. Board Members Roach and Kluck have indicated that they did not have enough information on the topic to comment.
President Campbell, you told me last week that this was not a board issue.
As of today, several media outlets and interest groups have provided coverage of Mr. Ficken's decisions about The Pirate Press.
The eyes of the nation are on Boonville on this issue.
In the interest of the taxpayers of Boonville and the staff and teacher of Boonville High School's newspaper production class, I ask you to answer the following questions tonight.
1. Why has the board not made any public comment as a group about The Pirate Press?
2. To what degree does the board support Mr. Ficken's decision to stop distribution of some issues of The Pirate Press?
3. What is the Boonville R-1 School District's protocol with regard to administrative review of The Pirate Press student newspaper? Additionally, when did the protocol take effect, and who authorized it?
4. To what degree did Mr. Webster review, edit or otherwise examine The Pirate Press in any form before it began to be distributed on Oct. 2?
5. What curriculum and guidelines govern the teacher and staff of Boonville High School's newspaper production class? Additionally, when did those curriculum and guidelines take effect, and who authorized them?
6. What steps have been taken or will be taken by the board and Mr. Ficken to make sure that expectations and acceptable practices regarding the production of The Pirate Press are made available to, and understood by, the newspaper production teacher and her students?
I look forward to sharing your answers with readers in Thursday's Boonville Daily News.
Copyright 2009, Boonville (Mo.) Daily News. Reprinted with permission