Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More Fallout From Gay Tolerance Editorial: Student Advisor Put On Leave

Apparently embarrassed by the national spotlight focused on the school after school administrators foolishly expressed their objection to 10th-grader Megan Chase's editorial in a Woodlun high school student newspaper, school administrators are now going after the teacher/student newspaper advisor. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette reports that Amy Sorrell has been placed on paid leave while school officials decide whether to terminate her contract. Krista Stockman reports:

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.


Anonymous said...

It seems that there is something about school administration that turns people who were once presumably sensible into folks who do the goofiest things. I don't know if it's a (false) sense that one is in control or what - but the principal has taken what would otherwise have been a never-noticed story and turned it into national news, making himself look quite foolish in the process.

Anonymous said...

Trust me, school administrators are, for the most part, goons. The power rush is something akin to, say, the nerdiest kid in your high school class all of a sudden being in charge. Seriously.

There has not been a breath of fresh air in the school admin. instructional program in 40 years. The same old crap cycles in and out. It's an endurance degree/certificate. Go long enough, stay long enough, soak up their culture, and you become an administrator.

There are outstanding examples of people whom the system promoted, but who do not "drink the Kool Aid." But they are few and far between.

There is no incentive whatsoever for school administrators to smell the coffee. They make a decent salary falling out of bed, whether they push for extra effort or not. Their job is impossible, but they contribute to the malaise.

And school press freedom issues are not generally as clear as they first appear. I hope this teacher is a member of her union. She has a solid case. The principal ought to be disciplined, not the teacher. But good luck with that one. Guess who controls the discipline system?

The best way to reform school administration? Allow private-sector folks, with little or no extra training, into their ranks.

Don't you think an Army general, or a Nordstrom store manager, or a state police captain, could be a good principal, with some assistance? The arrogance of the school admin community would have you believe only THEY know how to run a school.

If we continue to allow that crap, we'll get the same kind of crap we've been getting. It's gettng worse, with time, because each decade that passes, without change, further shoves out the corral of acceptance. Outrageous administrator actions of 1995 are now accepted as normal.

Anonymous said...

Who was the Greek philosopher who told the people of Athens (?), when they asked him what to do about the decline of their civilization, said something like "first, stop doing what you're doing now." This is generally good advice....at least you should evaluate what you're doing now and give some preference to doing something new.

Anonymous said...

"... but the principal has taken what would otherwise have been a never-noticed story and turned it into national news ..."

Correction ... make that international news. We have read the opinion article in question here in Europe and learned that the teacher has been suspended.

What a lot of fuss about a good piece of journalism.

The reaction for the headteacher is way over the top and this sort of thing gives America a bad name in other countries.

I trust that the good people of Fort Wayne will rally to the cause and get the teacher re-instated immediately and the headteacher "put on leave".

There was nothing offensive or inappropriate about this article.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

May I suggest that the student newspaper submit for thier next edition, selected quotes from Jefferson, Paine, Franklin and Orwell?
A single page edition of the student paper, submitted to theprinciple-less principal should be sufficient.

A seperately run, student betting pool as to which quotes are censored, would generate a pizza diner for the students fighting the good fight.

Anonymous said...

I think this argument is very interesting, as I work as a substitute teacher, for students in a neighboring school district. Today during my day at a local middle school, I was asked to teach a course to 6th graders. In the context of this course, I showed a video entitled Hate. I thought it was ironic that the documentary discussed the GBLT community and the discrimination in it. The initial action of the students was to poke fun of each other, calling classmates 'gay.' I think it was very enlighting to the students, when they found out that people were killed because they were GLBT. I made it the point to conclude the class, by saying that you may not think it is right, but you need to treat everyone with respect. Personally, I am a pretty conservation person with a more 'traditional' values, however through my years of working with several different people, I have worked with those in the GLBT community. I have learned to build them up, not their lifestyle; I believe if that this is what Christ would do if he would be here on earth. What does this have to do with the school article? Students have to learn about each other, and explore their values. Not everyone will agree, but is that the value of agreeing to disagree. The message that this administrator may put out is that the GLBT lifestyle is not for his community or even his school. To a teen this is a powerful message, about belonging. For many GLBT students this may be a death sentence, as if no adult or student is allowed to help such teen in a crisis, this young person may end of dead through homicide or suicide.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Very well-said anon 8:23. Thank you for making a difference in your classroom.