Student Press Freedom Day is held on Feb. 26 and celebrates the work of high school and college journalists across the country.

The Student Press Law Center, which organizes the event, has announced this year’s theme as “Journalism Against the Odds” because of the immense work done nationwide to keep readers informed about public health risks and issues in society despite the many trials and tribulations in 2020.

In honor of this day, here are five times that student journalists have gone above and beyond to provide the public with honest, thorough reporting that helped impact their communities.

Frontlines of Hong Kong’s Protests

Editorial Committee of the Student Union, City University of Hong Kong

Video Warning: Graphic Content (Violence)

The Editorial Committee at CityU published a video on Oct. 22, 2019, depicting firsthand conflicts between protestors and police in Hong Kong.

The video depicts numerous scenes of violence in the streets as protestors, largely consisting of young students, clash with police over proposed extradition agreements between Hong Kong and China.

The video ends with a woman collapsing after an officer fires a bean bag round into her eye, resulting in major injuries according to hospital sources.

The extradition bill, which many claimed would violate the already contentious sovereignty of Hong Kong’s government, was scrapped entirely the day after the video was published.

Mississippi Burning case reopened due to efforts by teacher and students

National History Day Documentary

In 1964, three men, James E. Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were kidnapped and brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, who were aided by local Mississippi police.

Despite the FBI knowing the identity of the perpetrators, the case remained closed for decades.

In 2002, Michigan State University teacher Barry Bradshaw and his students, Brittany Saltiel, Sarah Siegel and Allison Nichols, began work on a documentary on the event that included an interview with one of the murderers, Edgar Ray Killen.

The group also found new evidence and witnesses to the crime, all of which were turned over to law enforcement.

After lobbying Congress and receiving support from members of Congress Jesse Jackson, Jr. and John Lewis, the case was reopened in 2005.

Killens was sentenced to three consecutive 20-year prison sentences at the age of 80 and died in prison at 92.

High school journalists uncover international trafficking ring

Berkeley High Jacket, Berkeley High School

BerkelyStory

(Source)

In 2000, a 16-year-old Indian immigrant was found dead by carbon monoxide poisoning in a Berkeley, California apartment.

Local media outlets largely glossed over the incident as a tragic accident, but 16-year-old Megan Greenwell and 17-year-old Iliana Montauk, students at Berkeley High School, dove deeper into the incident.

"Every other Bay Area newspaper just had the story of the tragic death, but we were finding out [the girl who died] wasn't even going to school," Greenwell told the SFGATE in 2000. "That made me think there was something bigger."

The story included many references to members of the South Asian community who claimed that “indentured servitude” may have been to blame.

Not long after, the San Francisco Examiner published federal charges against the deceased girl’s landlord, Lakireddy Bali Reddy, connecting him to sex trafficking and visa fraud.

Reddy, one of the richest landlords in the city, was later sentenced to over 8 years in prison and forced to pay $2 million in restitution. He was released in 2008 and still manages over 1,000 apartments as a registered sex offender.

While Reddy now walks free, the incident did influence major reform to state sex trafficking laws.

High School reporters uncover false credentials of new principal

The Booster Redux, Pittsburg High School

PittsStory

Gina Mathew, Kali Poenitske, Maddie Baden, Trina Paul, Connor Balthazor and Patrick Sullivan at Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Kan. (Source)

When Amy Robertson was designated as principal of Pittsburg High School in 2017, reporters at the school’s newspaper were charged with a simple profile done for all new administrators.

The students soon became concerned with Robertson’s inability to give straightforward answers to basic questions regarding her past experience and education history.

Online research revealed that Robertson’s degree was from Corllins University, an unaccredited institution that has been accused as a degree mill.

 

The students also uncovered evidence of Robertson attempting to run an unlicensed private school in her home of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“That raised a red flag,” 17-year-old high school junior Maddie Baden, who was among the six student reporters, told the Kansas City Star. “If students could uncover all of this, I want to know why the adults couldn’t find this."

The student’s thorough investigative work resulted in Robertson stepping down from her position as principal as well as praise from their school district’s superintendent.

Standardized testing accommodations abused in more affluent school districts

New Trier Times, New Trier High School

Ezra Wallach, opinion editor for the New Trier Times, published an article in 2018 detailing suspicious statistics surrounding the use of testing accommodations, such as extended time and breaks, for the ACT.

Wallach combed over numerous statistics regarding accommodations to outline his assertion that accommodations were disproportionately awarded to affluent and white students.

“There’s no getting around the fact that New Trier and its students gain an advantage over other less advantaged high schools,” Wallach stated in his piece.

The article meticulously cites professionals in the field of education, school district officials, and student accounts to craft a well-rounded expose that compares New Trier High School to less affluent schools in the region.

The Wall Street Journal would later write an article about the issue nationally, using Ezra and his work in the process.

Digital News Editor Michael J. Collins can be reached at michael.collins527@topper.wku.edu. Follow him on Twitter @MJCollinsNews.

Michael J. Collins was born in Shelbyville, Kentucky and attended Martha Layne Collins High School. Michael is a sophomore at WKU and is pursuing a degree in journalism and international affairs while working as the Digital News Editor for the Herald.