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Old Habits Die Hard

Photo by Caroline Mills

The Parent Teacher Student Association is known for sponsoring the College Clinic, end of semester finals celebrations and other school events; but recently the members have faced other topics: ending the Eastonian.

Principal John McKinney held a PTSA meeting in the auditorium on Oct. 4. Members of the PTSA board were in attendance, as well as Rachel England, a lawyer representing the district. The meeting informed parents about the Eastonian and the issues surrounding it. The meeting also gave parents an opportunity to ask questions about the paper. Because of how quickly the issue had grown, McKinney decided that it was time to get parents involved through the PTSA to help end the Eastonian.

“This is a high school. And you put 1600, 1700 teenagers together. Things will happen. And you have to treat them like kids, because that is what they are,” said McKinney. “You have to create a building that is conducive to learning and where students feel safe and welcome.”

The Eastonian is an underground newspaper which has been published for decades, atleast since the 1980’s according to older additions of the Hauberk. The paper originally made fun of school faculty members. As years went on, the paper starting publishing more controversial content, allegedly written by senior boys, according to students.

Now, the paper contains vulgar and graphic language and calls out certain students as well as parents of students, according to McKinney. Much of the content refers to binge drinking, sex, drug use and illegal parties. The past two years, the paper has come out on Lancer Day. While some copies of the paper were printed and put in the bathrooms, most of the distribution was done digitally this year.

To begin the meeting, McKinney played a KMBC news video about 1,600 East students taking an anti-bullying pledge from the winter pep assembly during the 2015-2016 school year.

As united voices reciting the anti-bullying pledge written by Just Like You films echoed over the auditorium speaker, one question stood out to McKinney: “How did East go from taking an anti-bullying pledge to writing the Eastonian?”

After the video ended, McKinney introduced England.

According to England, the Eastonian violates the First Amendment because it defames people and states facts that can’t be proven true. The Eastonian also violates several of SMSD’s regulations, including the JDEC – policy regarding sexual harassment and the JDDC – policy regarding bullying.

The Eastonian also violates a decision made by the Supreme Court after the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1969, according to England. The ruling states; “When off-campus speech causes a material and substantial disruption of the school environment, the school can impose discipline.” This is known as the “substantial disruption” standard.

This gives the district the right to investigate and take action for the situation, even if the names of the authors or distributors are never revealed, according to England.

In past years, McKinney and the administration have tried to handle the situation on their own. They received anonymous tips from the bully referral website as to who wrote the paper. The administration felt that the situation had been handled until the paper showed up again this year. Lawyers have been working since last year to help solve the problem of people writing an illegal paper, but this year was the breaking point because of the disruption it was creating for East and the community, according to McKinney.

“The IB seniors and I discussed [The Eastonian] in our TOK class and I think most of us agreed that action should be taken,” IB senior Lana Reaves said.

Every Lancer Day for the past few years, McKinney has had girls crying in his office and parents sending him emails. According to McKinney, what was supposed to be one of the best days on the Lancer calendar was ruined by the Eastonian.

“It was then that I said ‘Enough, we are done,” McKinney said. “This has got to end.”

McKinney decided to send an email to all students and parents. The email clearly laid out consequences for all involved in the paper: a ban from all school events, expulsion and the students will not be allowed to walk at graduation.

McKinney and the administration have been searching school laptops to find the authors and distributors. This has proved to be difficult because so much of the distribution was done through group text messages.  

However, Reaves and the IB seniors don’t agreed with all of the administration’s ideas.

“[The IB seniors] didn’t like the idea of not allowing people to walk at graduation,” Reaves said. “We also thought that it would be ineffective to have people submit the names to the administration.”

In addition to informing parents about the situation, McKinney also turned to his best resources: the students.

“Students are the ones who go to school here. They are the ones who know what is really going on,” McKinney said. “I am hoping that the students will stand up for each other, much like they have done for past situations.”

According to the PTSA student representative Elsa Jane Posten, students are now more aware of the situation and the serious consequences.

“The student body is aware,” Posten said. “We are working [to repair our reputation and] show people that recent behaviors are not okay and won’t be tolerated here [at East] now or ever.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, McKinney shared a message for students and their familes:

“We are not trying to embarrass the school, the families, the community.” McKinney said. “This school means the world to me. I think back to what East has overcome. We are better than the Eastonian. Our students deserve better. Our parents deserve better. Our community deserves better. And we have holes to dig out of. But we can do it. And I need your help.”

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Lucy Patterson

Lucy Patterson is a junior at Shawnee Mission East and is a second-year staffer on the Harbinger. Lucy is a copy editor, print news section editor and podcast editor. When Lucy is not in room 521, she can often be found in the SME pool with other girl’s swim team members or studying for her IB classes. In her very little free time, Lucy enjoys reading Emily Griffin novels and watching reruns of The Office. Lucy has found a true passion for journalism and can’t wait ... Read Full »

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