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Journalists at Flushing’s Townsend Harris HS receive national award

THHS award
Photo courtesy of the Student Press Law Center

For their dedication in reporting months of discord between students and an embattled school leader, journalists at a public Flushing high school have received national recognition.

Townsend Harris High School’s student newspaper, The Classic, has been awarded the 2017 Courage in Student Journalism Award by the Student Press Law Center. Reporters were presented the award on Nov. 18 at the fall National High School Journalism Convention in Dallas.

With editor-in-chief Sumaita Hasan and managing editor Mehrose Ahmad at the helm, The Classic reported on the school community’s ongoing battle with interim acting principal Rosemarie Jahoda, who was appointed to the position in 2016 following the departure of principal Anthony Barbetta.

Beginning with a sit-in, a student-led campaign against the educator began in December 2016. Students and educators began to tell stories of alleged rude interactions by Jahoda, which also reportedly occurred at her previous post at the Bronx High School of Science.

In the months-long fight, different members of the school community got involved in the process in the form of rallies, sit-ins, petitions and school meetings. Finally, at the end of the DOE’s C-30 process in May 2017, Brian Condon was appointed the permanent principal, ousting the embattled Jahoda.

“I think that Mehrose and I simply wanted to report on the truth amidst a tense environment where there was a lot of hearsay circulating,” Hasan said. “As a school with First Amendment rights, it was our duty to share the truth with the public and bring controversies to light. We were the only source with direct access to the students and teachers involved.”

In the middle of the unrest, a DOE official allegedly called the student newspaper’s stories on the matter “fake news.” The journalists followed up with a detailed letter to Mayor de Blasio and NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña responding to the claim.

“These stories were maligned as ‘fake news’ by the subject of these stories and her supporters,” said SPLC Executive Director Hadar Harris. “We’re here not only to affirm that the journalism done by these young reporters is accurate and in context, but to celebrate it at a national convention of 4,000-plus high school journalists.”

“I advise other high school journalists to remain persistent and continue to write for the sole purpose of providing accurate information,” Ahmad said. “Remaining persistent is the key to establishing contacts amongst your community, and these contacts will fuel your stories. Remain fearless and unafraid when confronting those of higher authority. Speak the truth and stand by the truth and know your rights.”

Hasan is currently a freshman in the Macaulay Honors program at Hunter College and Ahmad is a freshman at Barnard College of Columbia University.

The Student Press Law Center is a nonprofit founded in 1974 to provide legal support for those working in student journalism nationwide. The award was jointly sponsored by the Student Press Law Center, the Center for Scholastic Journalism (CSJ) at Kent State University and the National Scholastic Press Association. The CSJ provided a $1,000 award to The Classic.

Townsend Harris High School, located next to the Queens College campus, is consistently ranked among the best public high schools in the country for academics. Earlier this year, it placed No. 7 on a list of the top public high schools in New York state.

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