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How we handle student letters

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Greg Peck
March 14, 2013

We don’t get a lot of letters to the editor written by students as part of some classroom assignment, but we do from time to time. It seems that each spring in recent years, letters start coming my way from some classroom at UW-Rock County. They have similarities, and some of the writers identify themselves as students when they send these letters. Yet they indicate neither the class nor the instructor.

Recently, a local middle school teacher contacted me and said some of her students wanted to write about a specific topic. What are our parameters? Would we use these? Would she need to get permission from the students’ parents first?

I responded that whether to seek permission from the parents was up to her; if the letters arrived in our office, we would consider them fair game for publication. I also said if she sent a handful, we would perhaps select a couple for print.

Dick Hughes is a colleague at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. I met him several years ago in Little Rock, Ark., during the National Conference of Editorial Writers—now the Association of Opinion Journalists—annual conference. Dick and I have stayed in touch from time to time. He has been editorial page editor in Salem longer than I have served a similar role here in Janesville, and I value his opinions.

Yesterday, he tweeted about classroom writing projects and included a link to his newspaper’s policy. He noted that teachers sometimes assign students to write letters, particularly during the spring semester. While the Statesman Journal welcomes such letters, it suggests these steps:

  1. Follow the guidelines for submitting letters, and include contact information for the writers.
  2. Teachers should grade students on their writing but not on whether the newspaper publishes the letters. The newspaper will only choose a few letters to publish, and it’s unfair to grade students based on the newspaper’s editing decisions.
  3. Submit letters online or by email, if possible, because they can be processed faster and don’t require retyping.
  4. Alert the newspaper that the letters will be coming and let the paper know who the teacher is in case of questions.

Those are solid rules, and I would urge any teachers and/or students to likewise follow them when sending letters to The Gazette. Our word limit is 250. You can submit them to me at my email address below or through letters@gazettextra.com. More information about our general letters guidelines is available here.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook



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