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Capital High School journalism students allege they’re being censored by administrators

UPDATED: Wed., June 15, 2022

By Ty Vinson The Olympian

A group of student journalists at Capital High School in Olympia recently reached out to a Seattle news station hoping to regain the editorial freedom they allege has been taken from them.

Q13 Fox reported last week that students involved in KOUG-TV, the school’s Visual Communications course, are being silenced by administrators, who are barring them from reporting hard news stories, using equipment and more.

Sawyer Conklin, a student at CHS, said tension between the class and administration has gotten increasingly worse throughout the school year. But things really blew up after students recently questioned Frank Wilson, the Olympia School District’s executive director of operations, about the lack of soap in restrooms. Students said it had been an issue for nearly three months before it got fixed following their interview.

After the class ran the story, students said their adviser received an email from Wilson saying their “gotcha” tactic used during the interview was unfortunate and he had instructed his staff not to take interviews without his approval.

“I don’t enjoy being a roadblock to the free press, but I cannot afford to place operations staff in a position that may cause them discomfort either personally or professionally, regardless of how innocuous the subject they believe they are being asked to address may seem,” he said.

After receiving the email, students say they’ve been restricted from interviewing bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria staff and other district employees. Students also allege they have been barred from telling hard news stories.

Their adviser also has been absent since June 1, and now they say they must send their content to an OSD administrator to review before publishing.

Freshman Julian Gabbard said staff has cut access to cameras, tripods and microphones. Students allege teachers were told to stop showing KOUG-TV in class.

They say these issues are a direct violation of Senate Bill 5064, a law establishing the right of students’ freedom of expression, and they’ve reached out to an attorney with the Student Press Law Center.

In response to an inquiry about the situation from The Olympian on June 10, OSD communications director Susan Gifford said due to the absence of the classes’ teacher, CHS administration has been assisting with providing oversight of the program in partnership with substitute teachers.

“Like any other K-12 class, program or extracurricular activity, Capital High School is a public school with minors on its campus,” she said. “We require staff supervision and oversight regardless of the class or activity.”

She said in the case of KOUG-TV, adults need to ensure media content is within the laws that protect student journalists, as well as others on campus. She said providing staff oversight isn’t censorship.

Gifford said students still have access to equipment for the Visual Communications classes and are continuing to report news stories and interview school staff. She said the district isn’t at liberty to discuss the absence of the program’s regular teacher.

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