Multitudes of public school students across the nation -- and world -- participated in "See You at the Pole" today, an annual event during which young people assemble at their public school flag poles to offer up prayers, read scripture and acknowledge their faith.
Crestwood High School in Mountain Top, Pa., was just one of the many schools with students who participated in today's festivities. But it seems the event had somewhat of a glitch -- at least when it comes to coverage in local media.
This morning, WBRE-TV, a local media outlet, made an intriguing accusation on its Facebook page, claiming that school officials kicked journalists out from covering the event. The social media post, which posed some controversial questions, also left TheBlaze wondering if there was more to the story.
Here's the posting that announces the outlet's purported booting from Crestwood's campus:
Here's one from the "Why doesn't the news ever cover something positive" department... Eyewitness News crews this morning were kicked out of Crestwood High School's parking lot this morning by district officials. Our reporter and photographer were there with students - who had permission to be there - as they gathered for an event called 'See You at the Pole', a student organized and led event to come together and pray. We want your thoughts. First, should prayer be allowed on school property? Second, should news crews be able to cover student events like this or should we be limited to teacher strikes, school board meetings and sporting events?
From a journalistic standpoint, the scenario described in the posting sparks an interesting debate. Schools, which are considered private property even when they are taxpayer-funded, have every right to decline access to media. But if journalists were kicked out of the prayer event, yet allowed to attend other school functions, questions about motivation abound.
A screen shot from the WBRE-TV Facebook page
Did the decision to can journalists have anything at all to do with the fact that the event in question was faith-based (after all, we know how complicated and contentious church versus state issues have become)? Or was it rooted in something more complicated surrounding district policy?
In a follow-up Facebook post, WBRE-TV attempted to add further context in an effort to clear up confusion.
"Thanks for the feedback everyone. A couple of clarifications -- the district official did NOT stop the student event which didn't start until 7am," reads the message. "Eyewitness News was invited there by the students, then our crew was told to leave by the district official prior to the event."
The outlet claims that the students who were with the crew went to a different flag pole off school grounds so that reporters could still capture the activity.
TheBlaze reached out to WBRE-TV to confirm the details presented in the Facebook post, but after repeated calls we were finally told by the news director that the outlet would not be issuing any additional comments on the matter.
A video posted by the outlet doesn't mention the media crews being kicked out of the event:
Crestwood High School Principal Christopher Gegaris, however, did speak with us to explain the district's side of the story. The administrator noted that, while he was not on campus at the time, he was told that media showed up as early as 5:23 a.m -- well before the "See You at the Pole" initiative commenced.
Having visitors at the school this early is not acceptable, explained Gegaris. It's too early, too few administrators and staff are present and, as a result, safety could be compromised.
The principal said that some of the information in the Facebook post was simply not accurate. As for any concerns that the decision to kick media off the premises had anything to do with the prayer event, Gegaris said that media are generally more than welcome at events, pending they go through the proper channels.
In this case, the principal said that "all of the procedures were not followed" in order for reporters to be cleared to attend the gathering. Considering that 1,400 students and at least 38 buses come in every morning, keeping track of outside guests is paramount.
With the reporters arriving so early and purportedly without notifying the district or the school, Gegaris said that turning them away was the proper course of action.
"Again, we have a process for dealing with that and as long as those processes are followed we're pretty compliant," he said of the school's policies.
As far as WBRE-TV goes, he noted that the outlet has been on campus numerous time in the past without incident. And the prayer event is something the school has no problem with, Gegaris told TheBlaze, as it has been conducted for years.
"Anyone who comes on campus must announce themselves in some way," he added.
So, was the outlet kicked out? Yes, but it appears, based on the school's account, that the motivation for doing so was centered upon policy, permission and safety.
In case you're interested, here's a trailer that shows more about the international prayer event:
And you can read more about the "See You at the Pole" events here.