Concerned journalism students at Columbia’s Hickman High School contacted Keep Columbia Free with a story that is sure to raise a few eyebrows. It seems that these enterprising students working on the school newspaper, The Legacy, had arranged for a press conference and interview with the recently exonerated – after spending 10 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction – Ryan Ferguson and his mother, Leslie Ferguson. Most of the local and national media attention had been focused on Bill, Ryan’s father, so the students decided they would blaze new territory and tell the story of the long battle against the justice system from Leslie’s perspective.
The plan was a good one — a once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity par excellence. The students were geared up to interview Columbia’s newest national celebrity and his mother. They had all chipped in for a “Freedom Basket” as a gift for Ryan. Everything was a go. The excitement was palpable.
Enter Hickman Principal Dr. Tracey Conrad.
When Dr. Conrad learned of the plan, she contacted the school newspaper staff and told them that Ryan Ferguson would not be allowed on the Hickman campus. She told students that Mr. Ferguson would be a “disruption to class.” Dr. Conrad did indicate, however, that Ryan’s mother was welcome to come to the school.
Certainly high-profile guests have visited our local schools before. Certainly there is some sort of protocol for high-profile visitors. Does Dr. Conrad not believe in Ryan Ferguson’s innocence? Does Dr. Conrad believe Ryan Ferguson is some sort of liability? United States Representative Vicky Hartzler visited Hickman High School just last month and seemed to have a grand ol’ time with Dr. Conrad.
In 2010, Hall of Fame NASA astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson visited the school and there wasn’t a riot.
When students contacted Mrs. Ferguson to tell her she was welcome, but her son was not, she told them that if her son was not welcome at the public school, she did not feel comfortable visiting the school.
The students are currently attempting to arrange for an interview at an off-campus location.
A Hickman staffer has corroborated the story told to Keep Columbia Free by the disappointed Hickman students, but understandably declined to go on the record with any opinion regarding the situation. Keep Columbia Free staff has reached out to Dr. Conrad, but as of now has received no response. KCF staff has also reached out to the Ferguson family via their website. If new information emerges, we will bring the information to light.
It is certainly sad that the school administration could not interrupt the rote exercises aimed at improving government standardized test scores for a few hours for an unprecedented educational opportunity for these bright and energized students on the school newspaper staff. At least these young students are getting a taste of what it is like for a free press to attempt to operate under some sort of autocratic regime. Hopefully they will learn to ever value our beloved American First Amendment to the United States Constitution which secures not only freedom of speech, but freedom of the press and the right to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances. I hope these young students find a way to petition Dr. Conrad, a government employee, for redress in this situation.