The Woodlan Junior-Senior High School journalism teacher who sparked a First Amendment fight in East Allen County Schools has been told her contract will be terminated.
Amy Sorrell received a letter from the school district Thursday saying that when the school board meets May 1 it will consider firing her for insubordination, neglect of duty, substantial inability to perform teaching duties and other reasons in the best interest of the school district. Sorrell was placed on paid leave March 19 while the district investigated allegations that could lead to her termination.
Sorrell didn’t find out what the district was investigating until she received the letter Thursday. The letter details seven reasons for her termination, including not following directives from Principal Ed Yoder regarding the editorial policy of the newspaper, altering the newspaper class curriculum, neglecting the yearbook program and engaging in a campaign placing EACS and Yoder in a false light by implying they are intolerant.
“Your efforts to cast Principal Yoder and EACS in a false light have hindered the efficient operation and educational mission of EACS and Woodlan Junior-Senior High School,” the letter stated.
It went on to say: “The journalism program at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School would be better served by replacing you with a teacher willing to work collaboratively with, not in conflict with, the building administrator in carrying out the prior review curriculum requirement for school sponsored publications.”
Jack Groch, the Indiana State Teachers Association representative for East Allen, said Sorrell will ask for a public hearing, which she is allowed to request, to show the community how EACS administrators treat teachers.
“I think the charges are trumped up,” Groch said.
Sorrell said she has difficulty accepting the reasons outlined in the letter, particularly the charge that she changed the curriculum without authorization. This month, instead of working on publishing a newspaper, the students studied court cases related to the First Amendment.
“I just have a really hard time accepting that First Amendment cases are against the curriculum,” she said.
The district is confident in its decision, said Andy Melin, assistant superintendent for secondary education and technology.
“There is no way after all of the time and the effort that has gone into this matter that if the administrative team did not fully believe that this was the appropriate action, it would not be taken,” he said.
The controversy over the student newspaper at Woodlan began in January when the Tomahawk printed an opinion piece by sophomore Megan Chase questioning people who believe homosexuality is wrong.
Shortly after the newspaper was distributed, Yoder told Sorrell and the newspaper staff that he needed to sign off on all future editions of the newspaper. He also issued Sorrell a written warning for insubordination and not carrying out her responsibilities as a teacher for exposing Woodlan students to inappropriate material.
Chase was surprised Thursday to hear that Sorrell was being fired.
“It’s not fair. She never did anything wrong,” she said. “I didn’t think they would actually do it.” She expects many students and other supporters to attend the public hearing to fight for Sorrell. Last week, dozens of people attended an EACS board meeting to support Sorrell, but they weren’t allowed to speak about the issue.
Sorrell said having her hearing in public is best for her.
“Clearly the public is supporting me,” she said.
And the newspaper class at Woodlan isn’t the same without Sorrell, Chase said.
“It’s not fun,” she said. “With her getting fired, I don’t think I will do it next year.”
Former editor Cortney Carpenter, a junior, left the newspaper when Sorrell was placed on leave. She wasn’t surprised to hear the latest development.
“I’m not shocked or anything because I figured that’s what would happen. But I thought they could work it out and get over it pretty much,” she said.
Carpenter said she doesn’t believe the accusations against Sorrell. Yoder knew the policy the newspaper was operating under most of the year and didn’t have a problem with it until recently, and both the newspaper and yearbook classes seemed to be working well, she said.
“We were putting out a really good paper,” Carpenter said. “It’s really going to suffer.
Journalism is going to go down. It’s not going to be as great as it had been when she was there. The school is really going to hurt from that.”
I think the school administrator's decision can be summed up in this petty sentence administrators included in her termination letter: “Your efforts to cast Principal Yoder and EACS in a false light have hindered the efficient operation and educational mission of EACS and Woodlan Junior-Senior High School.” Principal Yoder has nobody to blame for the bad publicity he's gotten out of this case than his own over-reactive, homophobic response to Chase's editorial.