From The Classic Editors: Ms. Jahoda, it’s time to stop being “unavailable”

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Dear Ms. Jahoda,

As you might be aware, recently, Donald J. Trump’s advisor Stephen K. Bannon declared that “The media here is the opposition party,” just days after Mr. Trump said that there is a “running war” with the media. With the recent events that have been happening here at Townsend Harris High School, we feel as if you too have come to view The Classic as “the opposition.”

The Classic is an open forum for the school community. We are aware that for the past months, we have been reporting incessantly on news involving you. Though it is unfortunate that almost all of this news depicts you negatively and has had detrimental consequences on the relationship between you and the community, we stand by our reporting. The question of your qualifications and actions as an interim principal and as a former assistant principal have become issues of public interest. Thousands of people apply to Townsend Harris and the public wants to know just who is going to run the school. It is our job to find the truth and we will continue to follow up on issues concerning our school.

One thing that also seems to come out of the Trump administration is the idea that “negative” reporting is “biased” reporting. Here is why it is dangerous to conflate the two: those who fear the consequences of a negative report try to attack the truth as biased in order to help themselves. Sometimes the truth is not that pleasant. Biased reporting distorts the truth by focusing on an unrelated angle or by blatantly printing things that are false. This has not been and never will be our intention.

The timeline of our reporting is clear, and while it is negative, we do not believe it shows bias. We are simply following the events that occurred during and after the student sit-in, in which Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro demanded evidence when students cited claims of teacher harrassment as the reason for their protesting. The day after Ms. Pineiro asked the student body for evidence, it was then brought to us by people whose identities we will not disclose. Afterward, you held a series of Town Halls, which we livestreamed, providing you unfiltered coverage to explain your side of the story. However, many felt that the Town Halls did not resolve the issues at hand. In fact, they led to more stories coming into the light, such as the one involving two girls from the Muslim Student Association who felt that you were more concerned with protecting the image of our school than addressing their concerns. This publicity led to more people approaching us with information on Facebook, which led to more reporting. We have spent numerous hours attempting to verify these claims, and only put forward those that we believe fully represent the truth.

Though we recognize that no principal has come under such scrutiny at THHS, it is also true that no hiring process has become so public or so ugly. Certainly none produced the sit-in video that has now been watched more than thirty thousand times. And yet, when previous principals have done things the school community has questioned and has brought it to our attention, we have reported on it. Last year, there were claims that a bulletin board was censored by former principal Anthony Barbetta because of its political content. We reported on this incident, found the artwork in question, published images of it, and spoke to all involved. Mr. Barbetta never hesitated to meet with us and provided his perspective on the controversy. We didn’t hesitate to publish it.

Yet, following this year’s set of negative articles, your relationship with us changed. It went from you discussing the issues that concern the school with us to you respectfully telling us that you were unavailable. Then, your descriptions of being unavailable every day soon turned into hostile interactions. We understand that it is bothersome to see us every day asking the same thing of you, but when you say you are unavailable that tells us we must continue trying to find time to see you in order to give you a chance to respond to our topics. After our repeated inquiries, the tone of your descriptions of being unavailable went from being polite to being angry and even aggressive, with you speaking over us and repeating “not available, not available, not available” until we walk away. At a Consultative Council meeting, we were given time to speak, but you refused to answer our questions and interrupted one of us in the middle of a “thank you.” This hostility is unprofessional and uncalled for as we are trying to be fair to you when we ask for your comments.

The current president’s relationship in the press is not something that should be replicated at Townsend Harris. It is bad for democracy and it is bad for our school.

It is crucial that we as journalists are given the opportunity to report every angle of a story; your input is necessary. At the Town Hall, after we had released an audio recording in which you said, “I’m not gonna stand in the f*****g hallway,” you not only apologized for the language that you used, but you also said that you would make an attempt to be more engaged with the student body. You also said at the Town Hall for sophomores, “I invite you, if you have more questions. Just come and see me.” Yet, this open door policy appears to exclude us. At the junior Town Hall you said, “I want you to feel comfortable talking to me and sharing your opinions with me because the more I know, the better job I’ll be able to do.”

If you are available to students, how can you be unavailable to speak with us for more than an entire month? You said that you made “an effort” to reach out to students at the Town Hall, but this effort is not enough. It has not catalyzed change, and you make students like us feel uncomfortable when we attempt to approach you.

Providing the school newspaper with your input would be the best way to reach out to the student body and demonstrate that you are aware of the atmosphere at THHS, one characterized by an unprecedented toxicity. Many of the articles that we have published directly affect the school community, and although you did host the Town Halls to clear up some “confusion,” not every issue was addressed, whether due to time constraints or you declining to answer certain questions. Also, since then there have been several other news stories that require comments from you.

We hope that instead of treating us with resentment, you treat us like all other students. We hope that when we approach you, you provide us with time and speak to us courteously. We are not your enemies and we are not “the opposition.” We want to maintain a truthful and honest relationship with you. If you still refuse to speak to us, we only ask that you provide us with a reason.

Sincerely,

Sumaita Hasan, Editor-in-Chief
Mehrose Ahmad, Managing Editor
Ilyssa Delos Reyes, Editor-in-Chief
Arifa Baksh, Managing Editor
Tara Jackson, Layout Editor  
Rabia Hasan, News Editor
Aly Tantawy, News Editor
Jillissa Drayton, Features Editor
Sarah Gafur, Features Editor
Mohima Sattar, Opinion Editor
Diego Ramos, Opinion Editor
Kristiana Deur, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Francesca Filiberti, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Agastya Vaidya, Sports Editor
Alexander T. Velaoras, Sports Editor
Sarah Yu, Science & Technology Editor
Laura Marsico, Multimedia Editor
Mahira Raihan, Multimedia Editor
Adam Sosnicki, Photography Editor
Renaenia Pangan, Photography Editor
Ashley An, Copy Editor
Ashley Zhao, Copy Editor

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