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By Paul Socolar on Oct 2, 2012 04:48 PM

The editorial staff of the Notebook wants to offer an explanation of the decision Saturday to disable comments on the Sept. 28 article about Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon’s leave from the School District. Some readers were upset by seeing comments taken down en masse. We have been accused of censorship.

We work hard to maintain a civil tone of conversation on our blog, one that welcomes different points of view and allows us to learn from each other. That is not an easy job when you have readers who are passionate and often legitimately angry. We do our best to moderate with our small staff. We do not have the funds to pay an evening or weekend shift to do this job. Even during the week we do not manage to respond to or remove every offensive comment. Our preference is to point out when someone is stepping out of line, but we do sometimes remove inappropriate comments.

By Saturday evening the comment thread on the Penny Nixon article was thoroughly riddled with inappropriate comments, and there was little apparent self-policing regarding acceptable language and statements.  We felt the discussion had gotten out of control – not unlike an out-of-control classroom – and decided we had no choice but to shut down the thread. We have only taken that step a few times before and did not take it lightly.

We hope it is clear that there is no taboo against criticizing public officials on the Notebook’s site; there is no shortage of such comments. The commentary pieces that appear on our site make it obvious that the Notebook has never been shy about providing a forum to those who question authority.

We are also not interested in squelching discussion about Nixon or any other public figure, regardless of the commenters’ point of view, as long as they refrain from name-calling and unsubstantiated allegations.

Here are some examples of the types of comments that appeared on the Nixon post and that do not have a place at the Notebook:

  • Calling other commenters names ("You jerk") or making disparaging remarks about the intelligence of other commenters.
  • Comparing people to animals.
  • Disparaging an entire racial group or an entire neighborhood.
  • Accusing individuals by name of crimes or other wrongdoing without offering any evidence (for example, listing a series of names and asserting that they obtained their jobs inappropriately).

What we ask is that you, our commenters, practice being respectful of other points of view on the site and refrain from name-calling and unsubstantiated personal attacks. We hope that you will politely remind others who are not being respectful that it is important to maintain this space as a forum where a diverse group of people who are passionate about the need for good schools in Philadelphia can engage in dialogue.

Thank you.



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Comments (27)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 6:29 pm

Is that last one a joke? Asserting that people obtained their jobs inappropriately is not allowed? Philadelphia is known as one of the most "political" and "patronage" heavy public school systems in the country and we're not supposed to talk about how people may have obtained their positions through connections rather than merit? The (now former) 440 employee who provided me with this perspective on the school district was at the same absolutely terrified the district was going to lose or be forced to return millions of dollars of DOL grants because no one at 440 could get the untouchable "connected" people in charge of the grant-related programs to do what needed to be done in order to be compliant. And this is the kind of thing The Notebook doesn't want us talking about? So disappointed in The Notebook.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on October 2, 2012 7:00 pm

Yes, it is a problem if an anonymous poster puts a comment up with a bunch of names and accuses these people of getting their positions through connections but offers nothing to back up the story.

In other words, we do not welcome defamatory comments made anonymously and offered without evidence or reference to sources that could confirm the story.

This says nothing about our willingess to write about politics and patronage; for instance, we've written about how the District lost Department of Labor grant money.

If you have reason to think a bunch of people got their jobs purely through political connections but can't prove it and need help doing so, send us a tip and we can investigate. You should not and don't have to risk defaming those people through a public post in order to share the information with the Notebook. Tips can be sent to



Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 8:18 pm

Thank you. That's fair. Investigate and provide information that can be verified with evidence, not fueled by personal agendas.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2012 10:13 am

I certainly agree with that fact that some folks are making allegations about school district personnel that have not been proven. It is more or less their opinion and not a fact.
In reference to Penny Nixion, who placed her in the position of Chief Academic Officer? Again, she did do it! It all falls on the superintendent of PSD at that time.
There were certainly some regional superintendents that were not experienced and had little or no ethics. Again, how did they get those positions? I was through the superintendent of schools. I feel she definitely was making some appointments based on political requests and connections.
Why did we have Estelle Matthews as the Director of Human Resources? Look what happened and how she supervised staff and manipulated her powers in the position she held. Again she was appointed by the then superintendent of schools.

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on October 2, 2012 10:49 pm

not to post jack, but the DOL grant post didn't explictly state why Olney high went off the persistently dangerous list. WIth all of the press Gratz got it, Notebook included, there never seemed to be clarity around whether the schools were taken off the list becuase of drops in serious incidents, or because they were restarted schools. The PA DOE has noted on their persistently dangerous schools page that Audenreid and Gratz were "changed to a charter school effective SY 2011-2012". 

Submitted by eileen difranco (not verified) on October 3, 2012 9:58 am

I"ve contacted The Notebook several times about failing to cover the success of our comprehensive neighborhood high school, Roxborough High. One would think that reporters would be beating a path to learn how we went from 75 violent incidents in one year down to below ten the next. The answer has been adequate leadership, something that is sorely lacking in many schools. While the charter and renaissance schools are receiving kudos, we have received little to no positive press. We achieved this in spite of drastic staff cutbacks. Surely, this is something to lift up to the public. It has been leadership that has been sorely lacking at every single layer in the SDP from the neighbohood schools to the SRC. Even now the SRC is pursing a policy designed by the Boston Group. Jeremy Nowalk stated at the community meeting at Enon that the group did not speak with any community stakeholders when drawing up their plan. So we have major decisions being made by an outside group funded by a charity that remains unaccountable to the public as well as a leadership that has turned education into a business rather than a public trust.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 3, 2012 9:49 am

Exactly! Leadership Matters and so does the community of a school. Great job Roxborough!!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 7:36 pm

This was censorship. No one was threatening anyone. The comments came from people who have knowledge of what they were saying. Many of us work with the principals that Nixon has put in place. While others were being laid-off Nixon was allowed to take a sabbatical and her people kept their jobs. Now teachers, students, parents and support staff are stuck with the bad decisions she made. The principals Nixon put in place are terrible and need to be called on the carpet! The Notebook should stop playing and put the comments back, everyone knows what's going on here.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 7:34 pm

The comments were all opinions. I guarantee you can go into the schools of the people that where named and find supportive people and positive comments. Displaying accusations without proof does nothing but displays SDP in a worst negative manner than it is already being displayed. It shows some people are disgruntled and unhappy. There are parents reading the comments stating they hope "their child(ren)" aren't subjected to the likes of the people making certain comments. Every leader appoints their own people. Hite is bringing in his people. Everyone is not going to like his appointees, but he's the boss and its his choice to surround himself with whom he feels comfortable. All previous administration brought in their own people. It's the nature of the beast.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 8:51 pm

Apparently you didn't read the comments. Your guarantee is meaningless.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 7, 2012 2:18 pm

This is so true

Submitted by Paul Socolar on October 2, 2012 7:19 pm

We welcome comments from readers about official wrongdoing that cite evidence. We also welcome tips where it may take the expertise of a news organization to produce the evidence to back up a story. The Notebook has no interest in or history of protecting administrators who are incompetent or involved in wrongdoing. We just published an article that named the names of  principals who ran schools that are suspected of testing irregularities where extreme swings in test scores coincided with their tenure. Last year it was the Notebook that reported that Penny Nixon was principal at Wagner in 2009 when the school was flagged for its erasure patterns. Those stories were built on evidence. They also did not leap to unfounded conclusions from the evidence.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 8:43 pm

“If you're explaining, you're losing."

Ronald Reagen to Fritz Mondale during presidential debate: 1984”

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2012 12:07 am

Isn't Reagen (sic) the one who also said "Facts are stupid things, stubborn things, I should say"?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 8:48 pm

Teachers and staff work with whom they are speaking about .The comments on Sept., 28th is about what people are witnessing, that's evidence. Respectfully.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 8:26 pm

Attorneys and journalists should be breathing a sigh of relief right now. You are one less person with whom they would have to compete for work. Stick to your day job.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on October 2, 2012 8:22 pm

I think withdrawing the comments was the right move. It's hard to move beyond the veil of anonymity, but there is the option of becoming an unnamed source and working with Notebook staff when egregious violations need to be brought to light. Too much anonymous rancor isn't necessarily convincing. The unfortunate fact is that many of us have had so few opportunities to counter the bullying that has marked administrative/staff relationships throughout the district, and many people feel quite bitter about this. It's not surprising that people jump on an opportunity to speak out...but I think the Notebook has to hold out for more measured responses from all of us if we don't want this forum to disintegrate into the Jerry Springer show.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2012 9:30 pm

Very well said

Submitted by SOS 60 on October 2, 2012 10:15 pm

I appreciate the action by the Notebook editorial staff to remove certain comments and more in explaining in detail the reasons for doing so. Organizations are not individuals and therefore have qualitatively different responsibilities. While individuals have responsibility for their own comments, an organization, in this case, a news organization, has responsibility not only the individuals working or writing for it, but for its corporate entity. I just don't mean legally, although that too, but it's mission, values, and principles. Trust in that organization derives - or does not - from how these tensions are traversed over time. I appreciate the Notebook's willingness to wrestle with what is fundamental for a journalism organization.

When we are free to make thoroughly anonymous comments on a public bulletin board, you get what you get. Sadly, too many of the comments serve no constructive purpose or inform let alone elevate the debate. If we have to put up with the many angry, mean spirited, vindictive anonymous comments in order to get the occasional constructive, well founded anonymous comment, then so be it. All commenters should recognize that this particular bulletin board is attached to an organization and although you may be anonymous, it's not a free ride. You can always start your own anonymous blog or comment page.

On a more concrete note, I suggest that commenters who wish to remain anonymous at least choose a submission name that is distinct. Anonymous 1, Anonymous 2, etc. At least then, we could follow the comment string from each anonymous commenter.

I am preparing myself for the anonymous comments to my post.

Submitted by Anonymous 60 (not verified) on October 2, 2012 10:37 pm

“If you're explaining, you're losing."

Ronald Reagen to Fritz Mondale during presidential debate: 1984

Is CAPTCHA new to comments? Staff must be playing with those comments section settings again.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2012 9:37 am

Oh, so it was the threats of lawsuits for libel that did it. That's all you had to say.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on October 3, 2012 3:07 pm

Actually, I did not say that ... because it's not true. Publishers are well-protected on this score. We are not legally responsible for what our commenters say.

This is about the kind of dialogue we are interested in having on our site. We are not interested in this site being a forum for unsubstantiated personal attacks. We think the site can be more valuable if we have more sharing of information and fewer mean-spirited remarks.

Submitted by Dina (not verified) on October 3, 2012 3:55 pm

I think you are absolutely right about all this. Some of the comments on that article made me extremely uncomfortable. I'm the first one, often, to criticize the district and its leadership. But this is a public conversation and there is no reason to be ugly.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 3, 2012 7:28 pm

"Ugly" is in the eye of the beholder. I agree with the comments against Penny Nixon and her "Girls." Many posters have had to deal with the overt arrogance and utter ineptitude of this group and feel frustrated and angry about it. Unless you have personally been offended by them, you simply don't understand how horrible they really are. You simply can't even begin to imagine the level of incompetence and ignorance they foist on others.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 4, 2012 12:55 am

Do your job and stop whining.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 4, 2012 5:10 am

Exactly, Adapt---Improvise---Overcome.

Submitted by Melissia (not verified) on October 8, 2012 7:56 am

censorship is a tricky thing, obviously, you can't allow people to say / post anything (e.g. trolling and stuff) but it is such a think line

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