Source: Student Press Law Center
The Student Press Law Center (SPLC), based in Washington D.C. announced on November 4, that Amherst Regional High School’s student paper, The Graphic, had been honored as a finalist, for their new, annual Student Freedom of Information award. Senior Talvin Dhingra, with help from adviser Sara Barber-Just, used public records to support powerful stories about transphobia and anti-LGBTQ+ behavior by students and staff at Amhest Regional Middle School as well as broader management issues within the school district.
Numerous sources shared detailed allegations with The Graphic that three school counselors routinely misgendered trans students and failed to support them or to address growing transphobic bullying at the middle school. The team’s story also revealed that a previously undisclosed Title IX investigation was underway.
Their story drew media attention from outlets like MassLive, The Boston Globe and WBUR, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, as well as the Amherst Indy It had a major impact toward making schools safer for LGBTQIA+ students. Among other changes at the district, three staffers and an assistant superintendent were placed on administrative leave, the superintendent took health-related leave (and has since resigned), four members of the school committee resigned, and the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth implemented a district-wide Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students training.
SPLC announced the honors on Nov. 4 at the Fall National High School Journalism Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. The Brechner Freedom of Information Project at the University of Florida sponsors the $1,000 prize for the award.
Riya Vyas of The Union at Milpitas High School in Milpitas, California was the winner of this year’s award. Vyas was recognized for her use of public records to report that her school had allowed teachers accused of inappropriate behavior toward students to resign quietly rather than pursue formal dismissals. The practice is a national issue that can permit offenders to find jobs at other schools, which The Union noted can continue the cycle of harassment and abuse.
The other finalists were Alexandra Cohen and Caitlin Kuhlmann of The Globe at Clayton High School in Missouri. They used public records to report a complex story on the significant mismanagement of the St. Louis County animal shelter as it was being taken over by a nonprofit organization.
After reviewing hundreds of pages of audit data, meeting notes, renovation plans and partnership agreements, the student journalists pieced together five years of neglect and abuse at the government-run shelter. This included hundreds of mistakenly euthanized animals, years of delays in the implementation of new procedures, and issues with the process of selecting an outside nonprofit to manage the shelter.
About the Award
The Student Freedom of Information Award recognizes a student journalist or team of journalists for outstanding and tenacious use of public records in reporting that promotes transparency and brings important issues to light in their school or community. SPLC presents the honor in partnership with the Brechner Freedom of Information Project at the University of Florida, which provides a $1,000 prize to the high school winner.
This year’s winner and finalists were selected from a competitive group of nominations by an advisory committee of experts on public records, including Barbara A. Petersen, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability; Albert Serna Jr., Whitmore FOIA Fellow at MuckRock; and Gunita Singh, staff attorney at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.