The East Allen County Schools teacher at the center of a controversy over the newspaper at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School has been placed on paid leave.
English and journalism teacher Amy Sorrell was told Monday that she was being placed on leave while the district investigates allegations that could lead to terminating her contract.
She said she doesn’t know what the investigation is about or why she is being placed on leave. “I’m assuming it’s with this whole mess of all this other stuff, but I really don’t see how it got this far,” Sorrell said.
The problems began when sophomore Megan Chase wrote an opinion piece for the Jan. 19 issue of the Woodlan Tomahawk questioning people who believe homosexuality is wrong.
Although Sorrell, who has been at Woodlan four years, generally ran sensitive stories by Woodlan Principal Ed Yoder first, she did not show him Chase’s piece because she didn’t think it would be controversial.
After the paper came out, Yoder told the newspaper staff and Sorrell that in the future he would need to sign off on every issue.
Yoder also gave Sorrell a written warning for insubordination and not carrying out her responsibilities as a teacher for exposing Woodlan students to inappropriate material. He told her if she did not comply with his orders she could be fired.
Sorrell said she called some of her students Monday to tell them why she won’t be in class. “At this point, I’m just waiting to find out what the allegations are,” she said.
Although nobody is saying publicly the grounds for Sorrell's possible termination, there was a hint in Stockman's story about what school administrators may be using as an excuse to get rid of Sorrell. New policies implemented by administrators resulted in the student newspaper ceasing publication. As Stockman explains:
In recent weeks, the school corporation has tweaked its student newspaper policy to clarify that the principal of a building is to serve as the publisher of the newspaper and should be familiar with its content before distribution.
The change was primarily in the wording of the policy and does not change the intent, Melin said.
“The principal has the ultimate obligation to know what the content is,” he said. “We’re holding everyone accountable for what’s occurring with student publications. We’re not saying it’s all on the adviser or the students. The principal has the ultimate responsibility, but it’s a shared responsibility of the adviser and principal. That’s why it’s critical that they work together.”
The updated policy, in part, led the Woodlan students to stop publishing their newspaper. Sorrell said students submitted an edition for review March 6 but didn’t receive it back until late March 8. That gave the students only one day to make revisions or miss their publication deadline, she said.
Instead of having outdated stories run, the students decided not to print that edition. Students also didn’t like the idea of running the policy naming the principal as publisher as Yoder requested, Sorrell said.
Students are now studying court cases related to freedom of the press instead of working on a new edition of the paper, she said.
“We’re not technically required to print a paper,” she said.
Melin said traditionally newspaper classes have published newspapers and are expected to as part of the curriculum.
“That decision is the principal’s decision,” he said. “The design of the class is that a product is produced and distributed to the school community.”
The school administration's complete mishandling of this matter from the beginning is only getting worse. The students understand why administrators are going after their teacher, and they are only undermining their credibility with the students further by doing so. The problem here is the students are actually better informed, more mature and apparently more educated than the people trying to run the school. How sad.