Interview by Rei Wolfsohn, Storytelling Intern at the Student Press Law Center. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Student journalists are instrumental in telling important — and often untold — stories for their communities. In SPLC’s series, Behind the Story, we highlight examples of bold journalism done by high school and collegiate student journalists across the country.
SPLC spoke with Nathalie Miranda, former features editor at The Pearl Post, which made national news when administrators at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School attempted to censor them and unlawfully punish their adviser.
Controversy arose when the school’s former librarian asked that her name be removed from Miranda’s story, “School staff vaccine mandate sparks protests, causes librarian to leave.” The story noted that the school librarian did not return to work after a vaccine mandate went into effect and that the library was closed to students.
The student journalists decided not to take down the librarian’s name from the published article. Administrators then demanded that their adviser Adriana Chavira remove the name. Chavira stood by her students’ editorial decision and was then informed by school officials that she would be suspended for three days without pay and have a disciplinary notice placed in her personnel file. The district rescinded its unlawful disciplinary action against Chavira in September 2021. (Read the full story here).
We sat down with Miranda to talk about what it was like working on the initial story.
RW: What was it like reporting on the story? What were some challenges you faced?
NM: This story wasn’t challenging at all to write. It was just like any other story I had been assigned at the time. The only challenge I can say I had was not having any interviews, so I couldn’t put any quotes in it.
RW: What is something you learned while working on this story?
NM: I can say that after everything happened in the past year, I did learn a lot. I learned how important your team is. I really learned how to rely on my other editors and get their help with stuff. I think that I improved on working under pressure, how I’m supposed to work even though I’m facing a lot of stress. The whole situation was kind of stressful, and I still had other things going on.
RW: How did the events transpire as you got pushback from the administration?
NM: By December, Ms. Chavira got an email from Ms. Enszer [the librarian] saying that we violated HIPAA and she wanted us to remove her name from the article. Then we spoke to a lawyer at SPLC and they assured us we did nothing wrong. So the editors came together and wrote an email, forwarded it to Ms. Chavira and she forwarded it to Ms. Enszer.
After that, Ms. Enzer decided to go directly to the district. She went straight to Mr. Petrossian [the principal] and he told us that if we didn’t remove the story then Ms. Chavira could face disciplinary action. When Ms. Chavira came to us in the beginning we were not taking it very seriously. We had gotten take-down requests before. But this time when they told us that Ms. Chavira could get disciplined it was much bigger. We realized we can’t just make this decision for Ms. Chavira, but Ms. Chavira from the beginning was very clear that she was willing to go down for us if it meant that we get to keep the story up.
RW: How did you overcome the censorship?
NM: I think it really helped that we came from a journalism school. We knew our rights and we knew what we could and couldn’t do. So there was no doubt in our minds that we were right. So at that point it was just like, are we willing to continue to fight? And we were. And Ms. Chavira was also.
We were stressed but we came together as a team. We were constantly assuring each other that we were right. The other editors were constantly assuring me that I didn’t do anything wrong, because it was my article. I think that’s ultimately how we overcame it, just really relying on each other and reassuring each other.
RW: Do you have advice to give other student journalists facing censorship like this?
NM: I think a big thing to consider is that it’s bigger than us. Censoring one story is horrible, but to not fight or stand up for yourself, it will do so much damage to you but also to journalists everywhere. They need to see that we aren’t going to back down and we know how important our voices are.
That vaccine story was small, nothing special. I’m aware it would have been really easy to take down. But if I did, if I just listened to the administration, and took it down –– if Ms. Chavira just let herself be punished without fighting back –– it would have done so much damage to journalists all over the state of California.
I’m thinking all the time that if they can do it to student journalists at a journalism magnet [school], they can do it to anyone. I think that’s what really inspired us to keep fighting. I hope that can inspire other student journalists everywhere to keep fighting.
RW: Do you have anything else to add about this story or student journalism in general?
NM: I think today, in 2022, journalists all over the world are being censored at an alarming rate at a time when we need journalism the most. So this situation was really scary. But I think being student journalists, you need to have a certain amount of courage to fight when stuff like this happens. I hope that student journalists everywhere continue to fight. And, journalists in general.
Also, I want to make it clear how grateful I am for Ms. Chavira and what she was willing to do for all of us. Not every adviser would be willing to face suspension or face being fired for their students and Ms. Chavira was. I’ll always respect her for that. I think it was a very honorable thing for her to do. It just showed how much she cared about her students. And, in turn, her students will always care about her.
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