Thursday, June 25, 2009

Muzzle the Press

The DeSoto County School Board on Tuesday voted to expand its dual-enrollment agreement with the local community college to include 9th and 10th graders. This move -- affecting children who attend a high school that has been "graded" by the state as a D school, has not been reported to the community.

"Well, I'm not a editor, and I don't set these things up," Sun-Herald Reporter John Lawhorne said when Old Word Wolf telephoned him two days after the meeting to ask why the local paper had not yet run the news -- but found room to publish reports from two other districts on today's "Our Town" front. Lawhorne attended the meeting with tape recorder and notebook and appeared to at least one member of the audience to be alert during most of the proceedings.

The dual-enrollment item came to the 5-member school board's attention during the agenda item Superientendent's Report. There was no wording on the published agenda that would alert the public to a deal that could send 14- and 15-year-olds into a college classroom.

Also not reported -- because John Lawhorne seems to have been muzzled by the school superintendent -- is the citizen who addressed the school board that evening. A college instructor took the podium to accuse the school district of not adquately teaching Sunshine State Standards at its D-rated high school.

"I see students come into my college courses from DeSoto High School who are woefully underprepared," said Marilyn Tarnowski, an adjunct faculty member in English and Humanities at South Florida Community College.

Tarnowski told the school board that she regularly teaches DeSoto High grads who are unable to locate major features on a globe, read well enough to decipher even short passages from Shakespeare or such standard American classics as Thoreau or Hawthorne. She went on to describe the lack of "critical reading and critical thinking" know-how, despite the fact that these skills are a core part of the state-mandated skill set that describes teaching standards for every grade level in the public schools.

"I talked to nearly every board member about the high school's FCAT reading scores before coming here tonight, and every one had a range of reasons for the poor results. The finger-pointing ranged from blaming the test itself to blaming our demographics and even blaming the students. Not one school board member suggested the problem might be rooted in the classroom and what goes on -- or doesn't go on -- there," Tarnowski said. State standardized test scores released last month indicated that 80 percent of DeSoto High's 10th graders were reading below grade level and 41 percent could not compute using 10-grade math.

Reporter Lawhorne acknowledged that when he tries to track down stories that might construed as critical of the school district, the elected members of the school board nearly always defer to Superintendent Adrian Cline -- an elected official who by state law is answerable to the school board, not it to him.

Lawhorne defended the lack of a local school board story as a space consideration and for reasons known only to editors, Charlotte County and North Port school board stories were deemed of more interest to DeSoto readers. "That where the readership is," Lawhorne said.


  1. It's one thing (no, not a good thing) for the school board to be cowed by a political insider and good old boy like Cline. It's quite another for the REPORTER (does that word not mean anything anymore?) to do his bidding when writing or not writing a story. Shame on the "newspaper." What ever happend to speaking truth to power?

  2. What the heck!!! Why does this "Reporter" continue to draw a paycheck from the newspaper...he should be on the paid staff of the school board. Anywhere else this would be top news--but not DeSoto. What a shame.

  3. I just found your blog and I'm an instant fan. Keep up the good work. I've tried to get several op-ed pieces run in the DeSoto Sun, to no avail. You are a breath of fresh air. I send you some of the material and see if you want to post it.