Comment praising Hitler in Sacramento class prompts debate after high school paper prints it

A Sacramento high school newspaper printed an offhand remark purportedly made by a student praising Adolf Hitler, touching off a debate over campus antisemitism and cavalier attitudes toward genocide.

Last week, C.K. McClatchy’s student newspaper, The Prospector, published its spring edition with a feature called “What did you say?” The feature’s introduction said it included “some of the weirdest stuff” overheard on campus. The paper listed nine remarks that it called “our favorites,” including items such as “I would definitely get suspended if I beat up the mascot” and “I miss my ex. I’m probably gonna stalk him.”

The ninth and final item that was reportedly said by a student was “Hitler’s got some good ideas.” An editor reportedly overheard the utterance in government class along with many other students, the newspaper’s adviser said in an email.

The comment refers to Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Germany dictator who started World War II and was responsible for the Holocaust, a genocidal campaign that persecuted and murdered Jewish people as well as others — including the Roma, the Slavs, people with disabilities and homosexuals — targeted by the Nazi regime.

Under Hitler’s leadership, 6 million Jewish people were murdered.

In response to the antisemitic remark, McClatchy High’s principal, Andrea Egan, said in an autodial message to parents and the school community Sunday that she found the comment “alarming.”

“My primary goal was and is to ensure that our campus is a safe and welcoming community for all students while navigating the complicated free speech issues associated with student publications,” she said in the message. “I promptly met with the journalism students early the next day to discuss my concerns, and shared with them the importance of exercising good judgment in their editorial decision-making. ... Words have the power to cause harm.”

Egan said in her message Sunday that she would be meeting with representatives from a local Jewish congregation this week to strategize on a response.

Brian Heap, the chief spokesman for the Sacramento City Unified School District, said in a statement that the “highly offensive comment” had not been reported to a teacher or administrator before its publication. “Our principals are first and foremost instructional leaders and, in this capacity, Principal Egan felt that addressing the (journalism) class directly and promptly was an important and necessary teaching opportunity.”

Heap said that Egan and other members of the school community would “continue searching for ways to stop the use of hurtful language in schools.”

The only context The Prospector included with the statement that Hitler had “some good ideas” was the location in which it was made — government class — as well as the greater context that it was on a list of strange remarks.

The paper’s faculty adviser, Samantha Archuleta, characterized the message as troubling but said it was important for The Prospector to report it. She said that it was unclear to that student editor whether the teacher also heard the comment, but that it was never addressed in the classroom. The editor of the paper, Archuleta said, stressed that using the word “favorite” in the intro was “a mistake that they will rectify in future editions.”

Archuleta said that student journalists, including the editor who overheard the statement by her classmate, are currently working on a follow-up story to provide more context. She said the feature was structured as a list so that more people would read it.

A comment overheard in a class about Adolf Hitler was reprinted in The Prospector student newspaper at C.K. McClatchy High School, sparking controversy and a meeting with local Jewish leaders.
A comment overheard in a class about Adolf Hitler was reprinted in The Prospector student newspaper at C.K. McClatchy High School, sparking controversy and a meeting with local Jewish leaders.

Which is worse: An offensive statement or its publication?

Archuleta, writing with her student-editor, Ilijah Curtin, told The Sacramento Bee, “The discussion before the publication was that the students’ intent was to show a variety of overheard statements on campus, from innocuous to harmful.”

She said they chose to include the comment about Hitler “because the student who said it was overheard by many kids and the kids do not know if the teacher heard it, but it was not addressed in class. They also asked the journalism class what they thought of the section and it was approved by all who reviewed it (nobody was opposed to it). I also read and approved it after we discussed possible alternatives and effects the quote could have.”

Archuleta said that, as Egan and the school community have emphasized the paper’s publication of the comment, “There has been absolutely no focus on the fact that a student said this on campus. That was the point of the column as well. The kids say that they hear things like this daily on our campus without any accountability or consequences.”