Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Woodlan Principal Upset Over Student Editorial Urging Tolerance Of Gays

PRINCIPAL SAYS STUDENTS EXPOSED TO "INAPPROPRIATE MATERIAL"
If you had any doubt about how much further Indiana has to go in the struggle to understand that being gay is a natural phenomenon and not a lifestyle choice, you need look no further than what happened at a Fort Wayne area public school after a 10th-grade student wrote an editorial urging tolerance of gays. Woodlan Junior-Senior High School Principal Edwin Yoder called the editorial "inappropriate material" and demanded that he be allowed to review all school newspaper content prior to its publication in the future. Journalism teacher Amy Sorrell was warned by Yoder she would be fired if she didn't comply with his order. Kelly Soderlund of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette writes:

A student editorial in the Woodlan Junior-Senior High School newspaper calling for more tolerance for gays and lesbians sparked the principal to seek approval of each edition before it goes to print and issue a written warning against the journalism teacher.

About 10 students attended the East Allen County Schools board meeting Tuesday night to ask members whether the issue could be put on the next meeting’s agenda. Superintendent Kay Novotny denied their request and suggested they meet with Assistant Superintendent Andy Melin instead.

“That’s probably a better forum than the board,” Novotny said.

Sophomore Megan Chase wrote an opinion piece – her first for the newspaper – that appeared in the Jan. 19 issue of the Woodlan Tomahawk that questioned people who believe it’s wrong to be gay or lesbian. Chase said she wrote the piece after a friend disclosed to her he was gay.

“I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today’s society,” Chase wrote. “I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they’re just different than you.”

Principal Edwin Yoder wrote a letter to the newspaper staff and journalism teacher Amy Sorrell insisting he sign off on every issue. Sorrell and the students contacted the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group for student newspapers, which advised them to appeal the decision. Last week, Yoder issued Sorrell a written warning for insubordination and not carrying out her responsibilities as a teacher. He accused her of exposing Woodlan students, who are in grades seven through 12, to inappropriate material and said if she did not comply with his orders she could be fired.

Yoder would not comment for this story, but Melin, who said he hasn’t read the editorial, said school officials do not have an issue with the topic but with the lack of balance and thoroughness in the opinion piece. Sorrell also should have consulted with Yoder before the article was printed, Melin said.

Melin would not comment on any disciplinary actions taken against Sorrell.

The students are naturally upset with Yoder's decision and have asked him to clarify exactly what the school's policy is on the tolerance of gay and lesbian students. An assistant principal told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette "there is no policy and didn’t think the board should have to go as far as to write one." The school cites a Supreme Court decision to defend its censorship of the school's newspaper. "Melin cited the 1988 Supreme Court case, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which ruled St. Louis school officials had the authority to censor stories about teen pregnancy and divorce in its high school newspaper." But check out the response from the Student Press Law Center to that argument:

Adam Goldstein, attorney at the Student Press Law Center, said the Woodlan situation does not fall under the Supreme Court precedent, which permits a school to interfere with student expression only when it can provide a legitimate educational basis for doing so.

In the Hazelwood case, school officials were able to prove the articles went against what was being taught in the classroom.

“If students are not being taught tolerance in the classroom, their problem is much larger than this particular incident,” Goldstein said.

Yoder is practicing an illegal form of censorship, Goldstein said, and the Student Press Law Center has available attorneys who are willing to donate their time if the Woodlan students take the case to court.

So what Goldstein is saying is that the only way the school can rely on the Hazelwood case to defend its actions is if the school's policy to to teach students they should not be tolerant of gays and lesbians. Sadly, Yoder's actions in this particular case suggest that is what he believes. The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel has a story on Woodlan's censorship of the gay tolerance editorial as well. It includes this comment from assistant principal Andy Mellin defending the censorship. “It’s the content of the article in terms of its level of its appropriateness and its balance. You have seventh- and eighth-graders that are far less mature than 11th- and 12th-graders.” The maturity level of the children in this case doesn't seem to be the issue. It's the school administrators.

Here's the full text of Megan Chase's poignant editorial which sent the school's administrators into such a hissy fit:

We live in a world where we grow up being taught that it is only acceptable for a boy and a girl to be together. So how do you think you would feel if as you grew older and more mature you started noticing people of the same sex as you, rather than the opposite?

I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today’s society. I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they’re just different than you. I’ve heard some people say that they think there is a cure to being homosexual. I can’t believe anyone would think that. It’s not a disease, or something that you catch from someone else; it’s something that they don’t have control over. In saying that, I also believe that homosexuality is not a choice. Almost everyone that I talk to says that a person chooses to be gay or straight. That, again, is something that I believe to be very wrong. If people made the choice to be homosexual, there wouldn’t be anyone who committed suicide because they were too afraid of what people would think of them, and kids wouldn’t be afraid of being disowned if they came out to their parents.

There is also the religious aspect to the argument, where people say that if someone is homosexual, they are automatically sent to hell. To me, that seems extremely unfair. So what are homosexual Christians supposed to do? The answer that I constantly get to that question is, “Just don’t acknowledge that they’re homosexual and live a ‘normal’ life.” Excuse me? So they’re just supposed to never find a partner, or marry someone of the opposite sex, have kids, and pretend they’re “normal?” I don’t think that’s right, or fair. I wouldn’t want to believe in something that would condemn me over something that I didn’t even choose.

It is fact that as many as 7.2 million Americans under the age of 20 are homosexual, and of those that have already come out, 28% of them felt compelled to drop out of school due to the constant verbal assault that they experienced after people found out. Now, if you think that is terrible, this is even worse: According to pflagupstatesc.org, every day 13 Americans from the ages of 15-24 commit suicide, and homosexual youths make up 30% of the completed suicides. I don’t understand why we would put so much pressure on those people, that they would feel that they have to end their lives because of their sexuality. Would it be so hard to just accept them as human beings who have feelings just like everyone else? Being homosexual doesn’t make a person inhuman, it makes them just a little bit different than the rest of the world. And for living in a society that tells you to always be yourself, it’s a hard price to pay.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kudos to a principal for demonstrating leadership & taking proper action when warranted! Indiana schools also develop character, and to that end, they must adhere to contemporary community standards. Parents have a right to expect that schools will not be exposing children to materials contrary to ethical beliefs.

Wilson46201 said...

Considering sodomy has not been illegal in Indiana for over 30 years now - what's the problem? It's not like the student was espousing something against the law!

lori said...

If anyone has phone numbers or email addresses for this I would love it. This girl and her teacher should be defended and applauded. This girl has done more towards gay acceptance in her short life than many of us have done in our lifetime. Wow, this is unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Wilson, where'd you get your law training??? The word “sodomy” described as the “abominable and detestable crime against nature with mankind or beast,” when practiced between members of the human species, means the copulation of the male organ of one with either the mouth or anus of the other. Estes v. State, 244 Ind. 691, 2 Ind. Dec. 584, 195 N.E.2d 471, 1964 Ind. LEXIS 176

In Indiana, sodomy is against the law! It took about a fraction of a second to do a search and find a felony crime IC 35-42-4-2 Criminal Deviate Conduct.

Anonymous said...

Wilson: A child is in need of services if he is a victim Criminal Deviate Conduct in Indiana.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...
Wilson: A child is in need of services if he is a victim Criminal Deviate Conduct in Indiana."

What in the hell are you talking about? Sex was not mentioned in this girls opinion piece and it shouldn't be a part of this freaking discussion. If ya'll want to argue about sex take it somewhere else and quit hijacking threads.

Torin said...

This is our time of Sufferage. Though sad, it is to be exepected.

Anonymous said...

Lots of issues flying around this one:

Students in public high schools, unless emancipated, have almost no rights, except to not be harmed. Those who care to delve into Indiana pulbic school law would perhaps be alarmed, but it's true. You want to start a real fight? Try to protect an unemancipated student's right to not have his locker searched without probable cause. And by probable cause, I'm not talking about some half-trained dog getting a "sniff" on something allegedly illegal in a locker. You will lose. You'd probably lose even if the student were emancipated.

Ample caselaw exists on student press rights.

If the school has no policy about the paper, they will now. And in the absence of a policy, the students' actions, if reasonable (these were), cannot and should not be used as a hammer.

The most-difficult part of this for me, was the teacher's insubordination charge. How can a principal discipline a teacher for not following a policy that isn't on the books? I'm betting the teacher practiced a reasonable degree of oversight, probably counseled the writer about potential consequences, advised against inflamatory language, urged strong research, and stepped back.

That is teaching.

And for the record, I know Woodlan and East Allen Schools. Tolerant they're not. This is rock-ribbed conservative Lutheran territory.
Maybe they shoujld re-read Martin Luther's thesis he nailed to the door. Particularly the one on live and let live, and the one on love.

Anonymous said...

I had a chance to read the student editorial in question. The basic theme of the editorial was tolerance towards people who are different than you. If the principal is indeed censoring tolerance then we need to reevaluate who is in charge of or public schools.
As for the comment by "anonymous” regarding Indiana 35-42-4-2, apparently you need to actually do some research regarding what you quote because I did a quick search and found the following.

This is a copy of IC 35-42-4-2 as obtained from www.ai.org (the official website of the state of Indiana).
35-42-4-2 Criminal deviate conduct
35-42-4-2 Sec. 2. (a) A person who knowingly or intentionally causes another person to perform or submit to deviate sexual conduct when:
(1) the other person is compelled by force or imminent threat of force;
(2) the other person is unaware that the conduct is occurring; or
(3) the other person is so mentally disabled or deficient that consent to the conduct cannot be given;
commits criminal deviate conduct, a Class B felony.
(b) An offense described in subsection (a) is a Class A felony if:
(1) it is committed by using or threatening the use of deadly force;
(2) it is committed while armed with a deadly weapon;
(3) it results in serious bodily injury to any person other than a defendant; or
(4) the commission of the offense is facilitated by furnishing the victim, without the victim's knowledge, with a drug (as defined in IC 16-42-19-2(1)) or a controlled substance (as defined in

IC 35-48-1-9) or knowing that the victim was furnished with the drug or controlled substance without the victim's knowledge.
As added by Acts 1976, P.L.148, SEC.2. Amended by Acts 1977, P.L.340, SEC.37; P.L.320-1983, SEC.24; P.L.183-1984, SEC.3; P.L.31-1998, SEC.4.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wilson46201 said...

and anonymous nobodies should be prohibited from making slanderous accusations...

Please remove the above libelous remark about me from this thread - the crazies must be getting desperate!

Wilson46201 said...

It might be instructive for AI to do a little detective work on what IP address is being used today to spread homophoic libel on this blog ...

Michael said...

Anon 8:45 AM said:

"Parents have a right to expect that schools will not be exposing children to materials contrary to ethical beliefs."

Excuse me? We're talking about a sophomore student writing an opinion piece in the student paper. As long as she does not engage in hate speech, she is afforded the right to speak her mind by the First Amendment. No one is "exposing" anything. Your argument is pure sophistry and hysteria.

Edward Fox said...

The definition of "criminally deviate conduct" and the law, as reported in this thread, seem to be as presently included in Indiana statute; but please note that the criminal offense is an absolute parallel to rape: the only crime is when force is used. In other words the law treats "criminally deviate conduct" the same as heterosexual intercourse. I suspect that the tendentious title ("crminally . . .") is a hold over from the past, when it probably was illegal. Whatever Indiana statute says, since the United States Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, what Indiana statute calls "criminally . . ." is absolutely legal, even in Indiana.

It is sad that the activist judges on the Supreme Court would presume to apply a foreign document, such as the Constitution of the United States of America, to overturn the democratically enacted laws of the sovereign state of Indiana; it is as if those foreign judges believed that Americans won the Revolutionary War and actually formed a government based on individual freedom, with real protections against the encroachments of government and the tyranny of the majority, and that the North won the Civil War and established that the federal government has the duty and the power to protect those freedoms for each and every citizen in each and every state. Whatever became of the Hoosier practice of treating the constitution like a nice piece of paper to teach pupils and ignore when it is inconvenient?

Edward Fox said...

"Parents have a right to expect that schools will not be exposing children to materials contrary to ethical beliefs."

Clearly the ethical beliefs that she challenged are the devotion of the principal and, presumably the school board, to intolerance; since that is what she was writing about.

As an aside, where does the call for "balance" in opinion pieces come from?

Edward Fox said...

I was at a meeting last night where a heated discussion of "choice" (is it a choice?) arose. A woman stated that she had chosen to be a lesbian; a man objected that she was deluding herself and betraying the cause by giving aid and comfort to the crazies.

The religious right, for a couple of years now gives evidence of having a coordinated campaign to establish that gender diversity is a choice. For some time they never miss an opportunity to insert "lifestyle" or "crossdresser" into the conversation, nor do they use any other term. I am convinced that this is because they have concluded that if it is not a choice, it cannot be a sin (or that they will have a very hard time convincing many other people that it is a sin) and because if it is not a choice, they would lose all the law suits about "gay marriage" (better called "marriage equality", or simply "equality"). The reason for this is that in Indiana, New York and Washington, the majority decision hinged on the determination that gays and lesbians were not a "suspect class" because membership was voluntary, unlike race and gender. (Of course the analysis does not hold up to scrutiny, but that is the way too many judges see it.) Had the courts accepted the clear evidence that membership is not voluntary--at least for very many people--it is almost certain that they would have had to rule in favor of equality.

That is why we feel so strongly about the "choice" argument.

Megan Chase, the student author of the offending piece gives us a way out of the dilemma: can we allow people to claim their own identity even if it hurts our political cause? She writes: "If people made the choice to be homosexual, there wouldn’t be anyone who committed suicide because they were too afraid of what people would think of them, . . ." I think that her exposition is eloquent, and as close to unarguable as we can come in this imperfect life.

cuzcoco said...

Megan should be PRAISED!!!! It is not often that a student in the 10th grade is able to understand the complexity of this horrible situation of suppression.
As a gay male, that is also a teacher in NYC, I am constantly giving life lessons as to how a person should appropriately interact with another person; gay, straight, bi, or whatever! A PERSON IS A PERSON! It amazes me how within one country there have been HUGE leaps of progress as well as HUGE hurdles that cannot be overcome by some people.
I never understood why people thought homosexuality was a choice? Would you choose to be persecuted and made to feel inferior because of your sexual identity? Would you ask someone to abuse you because you thought different than them? Would you want this to happen to someone you loved?

Anonymous said...

"Parents have a right to expect that schools will not be exposing children to materials contrary to ethical beliefs."

Gay kids are exposed to your intolerant little thugs everyday and that child that wrote that opinion piece knows more about "ethical beliefs" than you will learn in a lifetime.

Darren said...

"to understand that being gay is a natural phenomenon and not a lifestyle choice"

WOW! That's a stretch, or perhaps more along the lines of personal bias.

Using that line of thinking enables me to state that being homophobic is just as natural of a phenomenon and not a lifestyle choice! You people and all your accusitory comments about the rest of us being intolerant, are being intolerant yourselves. You are being intolerant of my natural phenomenon of being homophobic. After all I do not choose to be this way, it's just natural to me.

Cudos to Tim Hardaway and his recent thoughts. After all where is this tolerance that everyone keeps preaching?

Jeff Newman said...

Sheesh, Darren, I don't know how old you are, but if you have kids I pray they're not gay.

btw, cudos is spelled kudos, although you might be interested to know that "cu" is Portuguese for "asshole."

Just sayin...

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

Amen!

Georges Bataille said...

Sodomy has not been a crime in Indiana since 1977 when Indiana adopted the American Legal Institute's Model Penal Code.

I wonder if principals at America's high schools would be so ambivalent to the plight of GLBT youth--and, indeed, their associational and speech rights--if gay activists picketed the homes of offending school officials. I think it would be appropriate when the disgraceful behavior of school officials actively enables the victimization of GLBT youth and, consequently, is directly responsible for the atmosphere of fear and violence that pervades many high schools.

On that note, what should one think of those conservatives who constantly bemoan the violation of the speech and associational rights of conservatives on college campuses, but are totally silent when high schools actively prevent the formation of GLBT support groups and silence any and all gay friendly voices?

Anonymous said...

I can't resist saying that my vision of what some of these hate-mongers may look like is a fat, greasy-haired, pimply-faced or pock-marked face, rather dirty and ugly and living in a hovel of some sort, most likely a cheap house trailer sitting on a cement pad along a mosquito-infested mud bank in a holler on the south side of Indianapolis.

On the other hand, I realize that's not always the case. But anyone can afford an internet connection these days, as is evidenced by the hate-monges on this thread.

God bless Megan for as compassionate an article as I've ever read. Well done young lady!

Michael said...

Darren said:

"Using that line of thinking enables me to state that being homophobic is just as natural of a phenomenon and not a lifestyle choice! You people and all your accusitory comments about the rest of us being intolerant, are being intolerant yourselves. You are being intolerant of my natural phenomenon of being homophobic. After all I do not choose to be this way, it's just natural to me."

It's perfectly natural (and understandable) to fear what we do not understand, to distrust people who appear to be different from ourselves. However, to embrace an attitude of hatred toward others is a learned behavior. I believe science bears this out. Learn to accept and validate people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Though there may not be a gay gene, what paltry data we do have suggest that sexual orientation and gender identity are indeed immutable.

Anonymous said...

wow. the politicians passed a law this week that you can't even screw a chicken! . one pervert gets caught screwing a chicken and the idiot's pass a law!...what is this world comming to

Anonymous said...

I arrived here as a result of a link on the UK Gay News website who last night published a commentary on the commentary by Megan Chase and the furore it has caused - http://www.ukgaynews.org.uk/Archive/07/Feb/2201.htm . Having read the article, I simply cannot see what all the fuss is about.

Frankly, it is refreshing that a 16-year-old can identify a problem in society and then do a little research before writing what is an exceptional article.

The school authorites claim the the article was "unbalanced". Sine when does commentary have to be balanced?

The powers that be also said it was "inappropriate". What? Is there no homophobic bullying in the school?

In reality, Megan Chase should be feted by the school authorities for addressing the world-wide issue of homophobic bullying in schools. But then by acknowledging the young writer's work, they could be drawing attention to their shortcomings in addressing the issue.

However, on the school's website, there is one word missing from their diversity policy - "sexualty".

The good thing is that Megan's article has had a far wider readership that the school newspaper. It has gone international, which means that others at school in many other countries will now have read it.

The downside is that the furore over this exceptional article is that it makes not only Indiana, but the whole of the USA, look a bit daft.

While here in England a gay man or woman can serve openly in the military and a same-sex couple can enter into a civil parternship (which gives all the rights and resposabilities as does a civil marriage), we continue to have problems with homophobia - and homophobic bullying in our scholls is a real problem.

We could use a few youngsters like Megan Chase here. At the end of the day, youngsters take more notice of their peers than they do of us adults!

Rant over ... thanks for having me in "Advance Indiana"

Musicguy said...

I sent an email of support to the teacher, and an email of disgust to the cowardly principal. Mr. Yoder should be teaching in a christian school, not a PUBLIC school.

As an educator, I'm appalled by the actions of that district's adminstration. It's just sad.

And what's with all the anonymous comments?? Are these people afraid to stand by what they say????

Emproph said...

Darren said: "You people and all your accusitory comments about the rest of us being intolerant, are being intolerant yourselves."

To which I say: Always a favorite, the ever classic ‘where’s the tolerance for my intolerance?’ The idea that it is unfair to the oppressor when their victims complain about being oppressed.

Zachary said...

To all whom may read this:

This article came from Woodlan Jr/Sr High School, located in Woodburn, Indiana. The school is apart of the East Allen County Schools. The website is www.eacs.k12.in.us and there you may find information about the school.

Now, I am a former student of this school who graduated last year 06. I am one to say that I support this article, especially since I am a homosexual myself. Megan's article is merely informing the student body of her opinion and that she supports gay rights. It has nothing explicit in it to cause such controversy. Why are people so uptight about censorship in this article when in fact, public TV displays more sexually explicit material? For those of you who may not know, Woodlan is a conservative, country school. I was continuously made fun of til the end of my junior year. I had to earn the respect of some of my students by fighting back, and by having the support of the staff as well as some close friends. I applaud Megan for standing out, for making a difference in her community. After all, isn't that what America is about? Freedom of speech, constant learning?

Chris said...

To Darren:

I have had enough of the Kristian pigs in this nation vomiting their illogical nonsense and justifying their intolerance with garbage. I have a "natural" disgust towards Kristians and all crazy religious people, but does that give me the right to REMOVE their filthy, money hogging, child molestor harboring churches from every block and ban their way of thinking? No it doesn't.

Why should your descrimination take priority over my descrimination? It shouldn't, and it should have NO role in our government. You can keep believing the garbage Jesus, Santa and the elves fairy tales without me interfering with your beleifs and others should be able to marry whom they love without you interfering with their reality. You can keep thinking what you want, frankly no one cares. It only matters when you pigs cross the line and start inscribing your hate in the law.

At the end of the day your "natural phenmonenon" to hate gays should have no priority or presedence over my "natural phenomenon" to have disgust for religious crazies spewing hate into our government because their traumatized minds can't handle the truth.

bglasgow said...

FYI....There is a non-profit organization established to help support Gay & Lesbian students in our educational system.
www.glsen.org

Anonymous said...

The fact that this teacher firing is being pawned off as the inability of the teacher to follow the orders of the principal is a dodge, pure and simple. It's pretty clear that in reality the principal did not approve of the subject matter and is pretending to have fired the teacher for other reasons. I am frankly surprised that in 2007, people think there is anything the tiniest bit controversial about regarding homosexuals as human beings. This firing is just another example of bigotry. Imagine how the gay kids at the school must feel now that the administration has sent a message of hatred directly at them. Someone needs to take action and see that this principal is removed from a position where he can go on harming others and espousing hatred.

jim said...

>>"Parents have a right to expect that schools will not be exposing children to materials contrary to ethical beliefs."<<

Contrary to WHAT (and WHOSE) ethical beliefs? The student's editorial was promoting tolerance, not homosexuality. I must assume that by "ethical beliefs", you mean intolerance?

What, exactly do you think education is, if not exposure to a wide spectrum of ideals, beliefs and practices? What, exactly do you think education is, if not encouragement to articulate one's opinions? Your archaic, dogmatic and simple-minded approach to education is precisely why I homeschool my children.

Anonymous said...

ok are guys saying that being gay is wrong because being is not wrong. cause i for one have family who is gay so it is kind of sick if you think about it but it is just who you are

Trevor said...

Hi everyone
I was actually in the classroom with amy sorrell as her intern for the journalism class while all of this craziness was going on.
First of all, I would like to vouch for the integrity and coolness of Mrs. Sorrell, as she was one of my favorite teachers, despite our differing viewpoints. Also, as for everyone putting down Dr. Ed Yoder, I would like to say that he is one of the best principles that Woodlan High School has had in a long time, and has a genuine interest in helping students on their way towards college and real life. One more thing, and if you were to talk to Mrs. Sorrell, she would tell you this too. Dr. Yoder and her had no dislike of each other, despite the negative portrayal by the media. The thing was, Dr. Yoder was taking a lot of flak from the administration, and was being told constantly that he had to do something about this article. Another thing that Mrs. Sorrell told us in the journalism room, was that when Dr. Yoder was forced to put Mrs. Sorrell on leave, she said that she could see tears in his eyes. Thus proving that he didn't to do any of it, but was forced into it.