Rialto High School journalism students attempt to reinstate program

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The Rialto High School name engraved in stone faces the Pepper Avenue and Mill Street intersection. The high school was established in September 1992. (Leo Cabral | Viewpoints)
By Sean Ryan

Rialto High School students are fighting to reinstate their journalism program.

The journalism program and the school paper, “The Medieval Times,” were revived in 2015 with the help and support of journalism adviser Cassandra Rodriguez and former RHS principal Arnie Ayala.

Originally designed for upperclassmen, 15 students had enrolled during its first year and the numbers climbed as the years went on.

This year the program saw its highest enrollment of 70 students.

“Here, aspiring journalists would be exposed to the historical importance and foundations of journalism,” Rodriguez said.

In March 2020, the curriculum for the coming school year at RHS was announced but did not list the journalism program. It had been cut from the master schedule. 

“My journalists were worried and so was I,” Rodriguez said. “At the beginning of the 2019 school year, a journalist wrote an opinion article arguing against abortion. The new principal told the journalist to remove the article.”

The First Amendment protects student journalists from censorship and retaliation against faculty for the content produced by the students.

Principal Caroline Sweeney declined to comment on the matter. 

“The article was allowed to print, but it appeared bad blood had formed,” Rodriguez said.

Tyzhera Williams, co-editor of the journalism club, had been a member since 2020. As soon as she found out that the program had been cut, she investigated the matter. 

“I decided to set up a meeting with the principal to get answers,” Williams said. “During our meeting my questions were misunderstood or met with answers that didn’t add up.”

This year, RHS still does not have a journalism program and is instead operating as a club. 

“Over 70 students enrolled for the class, cementing the fact that the students want this curriculum,” Rodriguez said. “Yet after giving me my teaching assignment for the year, showing two sections of journalism, the principal ultimately cut the course again.”

In 1988, the Supreme Court of the United States had dealt with a similar case, Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier, on a matter of Hazelwood East High School principal attempting to censor two articles from the high school paper. The majority of the Justices declared “a school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission.”

“It upset me when I found out the journalism class had been cut,” said Cynthia Soto, a junior at RHS and secretary of the journalism program. “It meant students would not be able to publish articles or read them.” 

The students at RHS are missing out on the opportunity to gain skills and earn credits in journalism while it operates as a club and not an official class. 

“The principal started the year off by holding up our articles for longer than they needed,” Isaac Escamilla, sophomore at RHS, said. “The journalism program means a lot to me, I intend on making a career as a journalist.”

The journalism club intends to continue the fight to reinstate the program. 

“This is only the beginning,” Escamilla said. The students have started a petition to show administration that their needs are not being met.

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