High school journalists who exposed their principal's fraud invited to White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Charlotte England
Gina Mathew, Kali Poenitske, Maddie Baden, Trina Paul, Connor Balthazor and Patrick Sullivan prepare to Skype with newly hired principal Amy Robertson: Emily Smith/Pittsburg High School

A group of student journalists who investigated their high school principal and uncovered discrepancies in her CV which forced her to resign have been invited to a prestigious event at the White House.

Six teenagers and a teacher from Pittsburg High School in Kansas are expected to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner later this month, as guests of the Huffington Post.

A group of reporters and editors from the Booster Redux school paper began to research new-hire Amy Robertson when she started as their headteacher in March.

She resigned less than a month later, four days after the school paper published evidence gathered by teenage reporters in an investigation spanning several weeks, which showed some of Ms Robertson's qualifications did not appear to be accredited.

Local newspapers and the school board had all overlooked the alleged fraud.

Among discrepancies in the principal's credentials, the team of six students found the private university where she said she got her master’s and doctorate degrees did not appear to be accredited; in fact it had been portrayed in a number of articles as a diploma mill, a place where people can buy a degree, diploma or certificates.

“There were some things that just didn’t quite add up,” Connor Balthazor, 17, told The Washington Post, shortly after Ms Robertson quit.

The resignation thrust the student newspaper staff into local, state and national news, with professional journalists nationwide applauding the students for asking tough questions and prompting change in their administration.

“Everybody kept telling them, ‘stop poking your nose where it doesn’t belong,'” newspaper adviser Emily Smith told The Post. But with the encouragement of the superintendent, the students persisted.

“They were at a loss that something that was so easy for them to see was waiting to be noticed by adults,” Ms Smith said.

CNN announced in February that it would also be inviting journalism students to the dinner as a way to show commitment to the “health” of a free press.

Donald Trump has said that he will not attend the prestigious event.

He wrote on Twitter: “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”

The announcement came shortly after the President branded journalists "the enemy of the American people".

It will be the first time since 1981 that the sitting president has not attended.

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