Monday, March 26, 2007

More On Woodlan Student's Gay Tolerance Controversy

The Star's Rebecca Neal has a front-page story exploring the legal right of a school to control the content of student newspaper publications, focusing on the recent controversy which erupted at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School in Allen County after the student newspaper published 10th-grader Megan Chase's editorial promoting gay tolerance. That led to school administrators demanding total editorial control over the newspaper and placing the student teacher/advisor, Amy Sorrell, on paid leave. The school is now taking steps to terminate her.

One aspect Neal discusses, which hasn't been discussed in other stories, is the fact that the school signed off on what would seem to be more controversial issues for the same edition in which Chase's gay tolerance editorial appeared, including teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. As Neal writes:

Amy Sorrell figured the articles on teen pregnancy, teen motherhood and sexually transmitted diseases would be controversial, so she submitted them to her principal before publishing.

But the Woodlan Junior-Senior High School teacher didn't preapprove a student column calling for tolerance toward gays and lesbians that appeared in the same edition of the school paper.

Little did she know, that piece would make state and national news -- and get her suspended from her job this month.

"If we can talk about herpes and gonorrhea on one page, we should be able to talk about tolerance on the next page," says Sorrell, who doesn't believe she did anything wrong.

On the question of whether the school can exercise control over the content of the editorial in question, Neal, unfortunately, relies upon the expert legal advice of IU Law School Professor Henry Karlson, who is known for his rigid, conservative views. As Neal points out, the leading case in the area is Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which requires school officials to demonstrate a reasonable educational justification for editing or removing stories from a student publication. As far as Karlson is concerned, the school acted within the law because "the column could be seen as disruptive to the school environment and that Yoder likely met the Hazelwood requirement when he said the column was unsuitable for younger students."

I find it hard to accept that an editorial promoting gay tolerance can be found to be disruptive, while articles on teen sex and sexually-transmitted diseases would be deemed acceptable by the same school administrators. I guess you have to have a strong feelings about gay people as Professor Karlson seems to have. I found this comment by Karlson extremely offensive. "Anyone who thinks an article on homosexuality in Indiana isn't controversial isn't a competent person," he said. Karlson pointed to the controversial same-sex marriage debate before the Indiana General Assembly in support of his position. I suspect Karlson's comments in today's newspaper will stir debate among students and faculty at the law school, particularly since his views are completely at odds with the school's own policy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Hazelwood standard is, by most reasonable review, pretty easy for administrators to beat. Almost anything, in this post-Columbine and post-9/11 world, can be considered a threat to student safety, security or well-being. So much for civil rights, huh?

That being said, the entire Hazelwood standard, and most enforcement therefrom, rests on whether the school district had written, uniformly-enforced policies in place when the incident occured.

You can't just "make it up as you go."

That aspect of the controversy has not been reported. Frankly, it's the single-most important. If they had a policy in place, and it had been uniformly enforced, they can unfortunately probably procede as they did. Absent that policy, they're on thin ice.

I have always thought they wanted to get rid of this teacher anyway, and they're using this as an excuse.

And, on another note, is it time for Henry to retire yet? I appreciate his narrow Constitutional views, and I learn from them.

I learn how far some people stretch the Constitution with little or no flexibility or time-tested common sense.

But Henry,'s time for him to go off in a corner and drool. Way past time.