North High newsletter draws mixed reaction

January 29, 1997


Staff Writer

An employee newsletter critical of North Hagerstown High School's administration has prompted dozens of parents to come out in support of the school's administration.

The newsletter, called North High News and Views, has been used as "a forum to ridicule and belittle" school administration since September and is a "distraction to the learning environment," parent Nancy Friton told the Washington County Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday night.

Newsletter editors disagree, saying they see the publication as a tool for improving the school.

"We're trying to make things better by this attempt at looking at issues that seem to be negatively affecting the school," said special education teacher Amy Knepper, one of the five editors of the newsletter, who said she's heard a lot of positive comments from fellow staffers.


Other staff members asked that a disclaimer be added making it clear the newsletter isn't a school publication.

The newsletter isn't violating school system policy, schools Superintendent Wayne F. Gersen said Wednesday.

The publication includes the disclaimer, and its content hasn't been determined "slanderous, libelous or wrongful in the legal sense," Gersen said.

The newsletter, published semi-regularly since September, has riled some parents, who worry that school administrators might be penalized because of what they feel is the newsletter's negative slant.

For example, a fall issue charged: "The administrative mismanagement of North High's (Severely Emotionally Disturbed) program has reached a critical stage."

The most recent issue questioned the intent of discussions organized by Principal David F. Reeder to address problems, such as smoking.

Parent Lynn Connor said she doesn't think Reeder and other administrators have been treated fairly in the newsletter, and she wants them and school officials to know many parents are behind them.

Connor, vice president of the North High Band Boosters, presented a resolution declaring the 280-member group's "unqualified support for the North High administration."

In recent months, the school's Citizens Advisory Committee and Parent Teacher Student Association also presented resolutions of support to the school board.

Five other parents, including Friton, voiced support for the school's administration at the Tuesday board meeting. Dozens of others applauded from seats in the audience.

Friton, whose two daughters attend the school, said she thinks the newsletter's focus on problems detracts from the many good things about the school and administrators' hard work.

North High, like any school, has problems, Reeder said.

But while he supports the right to free speech, Reeder said he doesn't feel focusing on negatives and creating controversy is the right approach to solving problems.

Newsletter editors have the best interest of students and the school at heart, said editor Austin Gisriel, a teacher at the school. He said the newsletter is meant to be a starting point for discussion about the concerns.

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