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High school newspaper's Ferguson survey stopped by administration

High school newspaper's Ferguson survey stopped by administration

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WEBSTER GROVES – The ECHO newspaper staff at Webster Groves High School put together a survey this week hoping to gauge student opinion on the Ferguson protests and the grand jury's no-indictment decision for the killing of Michael Brown.

But on Thursday, Principal Jon Clark stopped the survey after hearing from an upset parent who'd received smart phone photos of the survey from his child. The Webster Groves School District then notified parents about the decision to scrap the survey. This upset even more parents who expressed their disapproval on Twitter and Facebook.

“That's the beauty of social media,” said Cathy Vespereny, district spokeswoman.

Clark stopped the survey because of its methodology, not its subject, Vespereny said. One question referred to Brown's killing as a 'murder'. The surveys also asked for each student's race and name, which the administrators weren't comfortable with.

“That isn't what we would consider a good survey,” Vespereny said.

Throughout the region, students on high school newspapers find themselves writing about one of the most sensitive stories in their generation. The ECHO staff has published several Ferguson-related stories since September, and had a reporter covering the peaceful walkout demonstration at the high school Thursday, Vespereny said.

About 350 students walked out of Webster Groves High to take a stand against aggressive policing and the decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson in Brown's fatal shooting. They assembled in the baseball field behind school. Some held signs.

In the courtyard, “They held a 4.5-minute moment of silence, recited the Lord’s prayer, and returned peacefully to their classes,” says an email from Clark to parents.

Close to 50 students also walked out of Hixson Middle School in a similar demonstration. The Hixon principal told them walking out would be considered cutting class, which has consequences. 

Demonstrations like this have been taking place at schools throughout the region all week. Webster Groves is a predominately white district district in central St. Louis County.

Parents upset about the school's decision to pull the ECHO survey questioned whether it was an attempt to censor and stifle discussion on a sensitive topic.

Vespereny said the newspaper staff may try again. 

“We are going to work with ECHO students on the kind of language you should use if you want to get results that are solid.”

Superintendent Sarah Riss sent parents another notice later indicating that they'd be working with students on how to better write surveys.

“Please know that all the administrators met this morning to discuss how we can best engage our students, staff, and families in discussions that are age appropriate and productive,” Riss wrote.

Elisa Crouch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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