An underground newspaper called the Eastonian has been around SM East for decades. And though it was never approved by the administration, for years it presented a mostly good-humored satire of life at the school.
But this year the Eastonian has crossed a line, the school says. And administrators are taking action to see its writers held to account.
“We are not just going to allow it to happen to our students,” SM East Principal John McKinney said Thursday of the latest issue of the paper, which caused an uproar among parents and students when it began circulating two weeks ago on Lancer Day.
The paper contained a handful of articles with highly derogatory comments about past and current students. The publication was laced with extremely sexual items and expletives.
The Eastonian at one time was a parody publication that was not offensive in the way of the current version, former students say. But in recent years it has taken a turn toward mean-spiritedness and outright harassment that reached a new low in the latest issue.
McKinney sent an email Thursday to SM East students and another to their parents. In the email to students, the principal said the Eastonian violated the school district policy on sexual harassment, intimidation and bullying and obscene or libelous student publications.
The publication contains language that says it was distributed outside of school property. However, it has made the rounds at school digitally and on social media, with some students distributing copies of the paper via text message on their phones.
In his email, McKinney said students who participated in the writing, editing or distribution of the Eastonian face consequences that could include suspension from school, banishment from all school district activities, including graduation ceremonies.
“Unfortunately, this year’s Lancer Day was marred by hate and ignorance in the form of the Eastonian. I apologize that I have to waste more of your time on this topic, but I want SME’s and the SMSD’s position on this worthless, hate-filled document to be very clear,” McKinney’s email to students read.
“This is not representative of the students at Shawnee Mission East,” he said Thursday. “ It is affecting the school as a whole in a very negative way. We’ve got to do something about this.”
Some students were so upset by personal attacks in the publication that they left school when it came out.
The email to students also asked for help stopping the emotional pain the publication has caused:
“I urge the students of SME to stand up against defamation and hate. Do not let the malicious words or deeds of a few overshadow the hard work and good name of the many. Do not let the reputation of your fellow students, your school, your families or your community be further damaged by this ridiculous waste of time. It is time to take a stand against hate. It is time to step up for your fellow Lancers, your school, and your community. If not now, when? How many more students and families have to be hurt before we say enough is enough? The time to bring an end to the Eastonian is now.”
It is not the first time the administration at SM East has taken a strong stand on a bullying issue. In early 2014 the Yik Yak app, which allows people to publish anonymous comments visible to people nearby, began to be used negatively and the school responded.
A meeting of the SM East PTSA on Oct. 4 will include information for parents about the history of the Eastonian and what happened this year.
McKinney asked for student and parental support in finding out which students are behind the publication.