“We don’t want to censor (the journalism students) but we want to make sure the principal has ownership and has understanding of what’s going out and for there not to be any surprises,” Hinojosa wrote in a letter to the Cobb NAACP branch. “It’s a fine line and we did consult with our legal counsel about how to do it … because of how politically volatile, how it really upset the campus, we want to make sure that the principal is aware of that (content).”
On April 25, the school’s newspaper, The Stinger, published its April Fool’s Day edition. A satirical column that listed 20 reasons why President Barack Obama shouldn’t be re-elected this fall, including “he’s black,” “he’s a Nazi” and “his dog is ugly,” ran on the front page.
Almost immediately after its release, the Sprayberry community and people nationwide began contacting former principal Ed Wagner, his administrative staff and Hinojosa.
“We got a bunch of emails the first three to five days after it printed,” Hinojosa said. “It was a firestorm, but after that, because of how it was handled by the principal and the staff there, we never heard another word.”
Deane Bonner, president of the local NAACP chapter, was one of those who contacted the district.
“It was unbelievable to us that it was allowed,” she said. “Education is about producing students so that you can become good citizens. If you’re allowing students to even have satire of that nature about the president of the United States of America … It ought be unacceptable to everybody.”
After a series of meetings and letters with Bonner, Hinojosa told her of the new policy via a letter.
“The incident was regrettable and troubling,” Hinojosa’s wrote to Bonner. “It is unfortunate that it happened in one of our schools. The district made a very public acknowledgement of the incident … In your letter dated May 9, 2012, you mentioned a specific request for personnel action. I want to acknowledge your input, but please be aware that I cannot discuss this personnel matter except to say that the district takes these matters seriously and strives to take action appropriate to each specific situation.”
Bonner acknowledged that she has received Hinojosa’s letter but hasn’t responded to it yet.
“We will talk about the letter at our executive board meeting because all of this was done not just with me but with the NAACP as a whole,” she said.
Bonner said she was seeking a public apology from the school and the district, saying such content was unacceptable.
Hinojosa said the school apologized on its website and during morning announcements within a few days of the publication.
“We handled it very quickly when it happened,” he said. “(District spokesman) Jay Dillon did a lot of interviews and the principal and staff, they all apologized, so it was handled back then.”
Hinojosa said he didn’t know if all school newspapers would be subject to similar reviews.
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Hungerford said that she “double checked” with each of the area superintendents and learned that it is routine for principals or assistant principals to review their school newspapers’ content.
“Each school might handle it a little different, … (but) it is a preferred practice,” she said.
Dillon would not release the name of the The Stinger’s teacher adviser, nor would he say if that employee is still with the district, stating in an email “I can’t discuss personnel issues.”
Wagner has since been transferred to Kell High School after the school’s former principal, Trudie Donovan, retired amidst an investigation into alleged sexual battery by a teacher against a student.
The district has appointed Dr. Hilda Wilkins to be interim principal at Sprayberry and expects to hire a permanent replacement in the coming months.