A recent Dexter student newspaper cartoon depicting one student beating up another is causing administration to work more closely with the newspaper editorial board to discuss future editorial cartoons.
The cartoon accompanied an unsigned editorial, published in the Nov. 16 edition of The Squall, addressing the newspaper staff's concerns with the district's implementation of an IB program, which they argue funnels thousands of dollars away from other programs in the district, including Advanced Placement (AP) classes.
"This year, 49 students are enrolled within the IB program, 26 of which are diploma candidates. Those 26 students are undoubtedly intelligent and thinking about their futures. But ultimately IB is not worth it. Not worth the cost, not worth separating students, and not worth the possibility of the district not being able to pay for other programs down the road, due to high costs associated with IB," the staff writes.
Paige Bartkowiak, a student enrolled in the IB program, said the editorial casts the IB program in a negative light and pits AP students against IB students. Bartkowiak said she was particularly disturbed by the factual errors in the editorial, and a stick-figure cartoon with two students labeled "AP" and "IB" fighting.
"At one point AP was a new way of teaching and there was opposition. IB is a new way of teaching and people need to have open minds about change," she said. "The article said IB was anti-American just because it was founded in Europe. There are many things founded in other countries and we adopt them into American culture. If the excuse of anti-American is used, that is suggesting that as Americans, we are so close-minded and solely focused on ourselves, which is a problem in itself."
Bartkowiak said since the editorial was published, some students have been afraid to come to school because they fear they could be physically and verbally abused.
"No child should have this fear," she said.
Avery Gordon, another student enrolled in the IB program, also took exception to the editorial.
"I would like to see statements well researched, clarified, and corrected. I am of the opinion the editorial cartoon depicted violence (one student fighting another)," she said "(If) there is no 'environment of bullying at DHS,' I question why the editorial cartoon showed such."
Editorializing IB versus AP
Cameron LaFontaine, co-editor of The Squall said the newspaper's editorial was not meant to incite violence among high school students.
"A lot of us feel like IB demands a lot of money and a lot of attention from basically everyone. Some of that attention could be given to AP students," LaFontaine said. "I don't disagree with what IB is trying to do, but I also feel you need to add more resources to what other students are trying to accomplish."
Addressing concerns about the editorial cartoon, Levy Kipke, co-editor of The Squall, said the stick figure drawings are meant to be an abstract concept and should not be taken literally.
"What we're saying is the AP program is trumping the IB program, not one student dominating another," he said.
DHS adviser Rod Sattherwaite said stick figure drawings to represent issues at the high school are nothing new.
"In our last issue, we talked about semester versus trimesters and we had one stick figure labeled as Dexter High School, with semesters falling down on him," Sattherwaite said.
LaFontaine said he encourages any student upset with the editorial to contact the Squall and discuss their concerns with the staff.
"We encourage other students to express their opinion; we don't discriminate," he said. "In any situation where you are concerned about what's printed, you should come to the source first and talk to us, so we can clear up any misconceptions."
DHS Principal Kit Moran said he plans to speak to the editorial board about the cartoon.
"My goal is to react purposefully," Moran said. "I feel for all my kids. We want to work through what happened.
Moran said he supports an administrative hands-off approach to student media, but also understands the concerns of some parents and students in the IB program.
"It's a balancing act for sure," he said. "I respect the newspaper's right to publish, but we have to make sure we don't damage other students ... in that process.
"What standards were used to judge the cartoon? Did they consider their audience?," Moran asked. "I think The Squall should continue to cover issues relevant to the school. I think we need to look at what they intended to do (with the cartoon), step back, and determine if it could've been handled better."
Similar to Advanced Placement (AP) classes, the IB program is described as "an academically challenging program for students ages 16 to 19."
According to Superintendent Mary Marshall, Dexter accepted its first group of students into the program this year, with 10 IB classes, at a cost of roughly $140,000.
That number will decrease to $75,000 in the 2013-2014 academic year, due to a full-time coordinator of the program changing to a half-time position.
"Several years ago, we as a district decided we needed more rigorous courses at the high school,” Moran told Ann Arbor.com. “We decided to go down the path of IB as opposed to adding a bunch more traditional AP classes. … We liked the instruction, thought it was a little more appropriate and integrated … part of our district strategic plan is to have our students have a world view and IB classes have a world view.”
The high school currently offers six AP classes with several sections catering to more than 100 students,
Marshall said the district does not maintain AP specific budget line items in the general fund budget. The cost of the program includes the cost of training, and a stipend paid to teachers who teach AP classes, although the stipend is being phased out at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year. In 2011-2012, the AP stipends amounted to roughly $43,000. In 2012-2013, the stipends reduced to $27,123.
The district also covers the cost of AP exams that students cannot afford, however most students who choose to take an AP exam pay for the cost of the assessment ($89), Marshall said.
The district will offer nine more IB classes beginning in 2013.
Moran said the addition of the IB classes is due to increased interest in the program. Already 20 students have informed the district of their intent to enroll in the IB program during the 2013-2014 academic year.
Students can enroll in a combination of AP and IB classes, or enroll to take different AP classes online that the school does not offer in a physical classroom, Moran said.
"It's about adding more choices for our students," he said.