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A student and a high school principal who fought attempts to censor students' news stories have been named the first recipients of the Courage in Student Journalism Awards.

The Newseum, a museum of the newspaper and broadcasting industries based in Arlington, Va., will present the awards annually to school officials and student journalists who have championed the rights of the student press.

Dan Vagasky, 15, then an 8th grader at Otsego Middle School in Otsego, Mich., was selected for his stand against censorship of his school paper, the Bulldog Express.

The former editor in chief sought to publish a story in February 1997 about a shoplifting incident on a school field trip. Although they acknowledged its accuracy, school officials stopped publication of the story. The Otsego schools superintendent told the local daily newspaper that he opposed running the story because it reflected poorly on the 2,434-student district.

The dispute provoked the district to shut down the Bulldog Express. Mr. Vagasky then took his case to federal court.

Now a freshman at Otsego High School, Mr. Vagasky is awaiting an out-of-court settlement with the school board that would prevent officials from rejecting an article solely because it might portray the district in a negative light. The board is expected to meet this month to approve the settlement.

Phillip F. Gainous, the principal of 2,400-student Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., was honored for publicly backing his students in protesting the district superintendent's refusal to air "Shades of Grey," a student-produced television program that included a panel discussion of same-sex marriages.

The Montgomery County school board sided with the principal and his students, and the show was broadcast on the county cable system last May.

Mr. Vagasky won $5,000, and Mr. Gainous was awarded $5,000 to be used for his school's journalism program.

The Newseum is underwritten by the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to a free press and free speech.

Seattle schools Superintendent John Stanford headed home last week after being released from the Virginia Mason Medical Center. Mr. Stanford, 59, entered the hospital last month to begin chemotherapy for leukemia, which is now in remission. ("Stanford's Illness Dampens Spirits in Seattle," April 15, 1998.)

The retired U.S. Army major general became Seattle's superintendent in 1995. He will return to running the 47,000-student district, working half-days until he regains his strength.

--ADRIENNE D. COLES [email protected]

Vol. 17, Issue 35, Page 5

Published in Print: May 13, 1998, as People
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