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Reporter arrested after questioning principal on school duck project

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  1. Newsgathering

    NMU         VIRGINIA         Newsgathering         Jun 12, 2001    

Reporter arrested after questioning principal on school duck project

  • A Manassas reporter was charged with trespassing after a school principal ordered her out of the school during an interview.

A reporter’s interview with a Virginia school principal about a class biology program erupted into a melodramatic squabble and a trespassing charge on June 6.

After several failed attempts to contact school administration for an interview, Manassas Journal Messenger reporter Kelly Campbell said she visited Woodbridge High School with the consent of a receptionist. Campbell was then invited into the school principal’s office, where, after five minutes, principal Karen Spillman told the reporter to leave.

Shocked by Spillman’s reaction, Campbell retorted, “Why? Are you serious?”

Spillman then asked a police officer assigned to the school to remove Campbell from campus because she allegedly refused to leave. Campbell said that she did not object to leaving, but before she could leave on her own the officer took her by the arm and arrested her. Campbell said she was handcuffed and taken to the Gar-Field police substation where she was detained for two hours and charged with trespassing.

Spillman did not return calls made by the Reporters Committee.

“Kelly broke no laws,” said Susan Svihlik, executive editor of the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger. “All she did was express her surprise, and in her hesitation, they handcuffed her and took her to jail.”

Campbell planned to interview Spillman about a biology program that involved an “imprinting” experiment, during which students had ducklings follow them as if they were the mother duck. There have been apparent concerns among the community and wildlife conservation officials regarding the validity and organization of the project.

According to Svihlik, school Superintendent Edward I. Kelly suggested that the charges against Campbell would be dropped, but no action has been taken.

“I think the charges should be dropped,” Svihlik said. “They were not valid in the first place.”

The ultimate decision to pursue charges lies with Prince William prosecutor Paul Ebert, who was unavailable for comment.


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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