Saturday, April 28, 2007

Not the environment in which I'd want to work

This story of the Associated Press wire from Woodburn, Indiana, caught my eye:
A high school teacher who faced losing her job after a student newspaper published an editorial advocating tolerance of gays can continue teaching at another school.

Amy Sorrell, 30, reached an agreement that allows her to be transferred to another high school to teach English, said her attorney, Patrick Proctor.

"The school administration has said in no uncertain terms that she's not going to be given a journalism position," Proctor said.

Sorrell, who had been an English and journalism instructor at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School, was placed on paid leave March 19, two months after an editorial advocating tolerance of homosexuals ran in Woodlan's student newspaper, The Tomahawk. Sorrell had been the newspaper's adviser.

School officials in the conservative northern Indiana community about 10 miles east of Fort Wayne said Sorrell did not comply with an agreement to alert the principal about controversial articles.

The agreement she signed includes a written reprimand that says she neglected her duties as a teacher and was insubordinate in refusing to obey school officials' orders.

Sorrell said she is "very proud" of Megan Chase, the student who wrote the editorial calling for tolerance and acceptance of gays, and the Tomahawk's other writers and editors. But she said she could not financially afford to fight the school district over her discipline.
They wanted to can her because she permitted the student-run newspaper to print an editorial calling for tolerance toward gays. Tolerance? The piece didn't call for becoming gay or trying it out or gay marriage or something else but just tolerance?

Chalk up another example of the environment I am not looking for.

1 comment:

slnachbar said...

I am reading the Amy Sorrell story from New Jersey, as someone who is about to publish a similar story, but in fiction—and my outcome was the same.

A teacher-newspaper advisor targeted by unhappy parents, including school board members, for allowing students to run a controversial story, is reassigned from high school to middle school. I reassigned the teacher in my story, on the suggestion of a former superintendent of schools, because it appeared to be a credible outcome. My teacher allowed students to run a sex test in the school paper without consulting her principal, during a time when sex education was being debated statewide.

The major difference is that my story, called The Sex Ed Chronicles, takes place in 1980, not today.

When I started on my story, I spoke with teachers in my hometown in New Jersey who had taught me 30 years ago. They made the same arguments as Ms. Sorrell: that a high school paper was a student forum and students were entitled to freedom of expression—as long as the writer made no comments that were disrespectful to classmates, teachers and school administrators or disruptive to school activities. My former speech and debate coach told me that it had been only recently that her principal had asked for final approval on student work in the school paper and literary magazine. Recently--as in the 21st century—even though this had not been required of an advisor during the late 1970’s.

I read Megan Chase’s column. She wrote nothing that would have offended anyone, even some one who is, for whatever reason, opposed to homosexuality. She presented an argument and backed it with facts, as a responsible journalist is supposed to do. I read no challenges to her column from parents or classmates; no one proved her wrong in any forum of public opinion, in least in the various articles I read online. I read only one objection from a parent who was not connected to the school district and it was not about the content of the story, but that her teacher did not follow the rules—to get approval from the principal before the story ran.

In Ms. Sorrell’s story, and mine, the principal wants the power of being publisher--but not the full responsibility.

I bet that Ms. Sorrell would have been fortunate to work with a principal/publisher who would have defended Megan Chase, if any one, parent or classmate had attacked her or her column. In that role, he would have followed through on Ms. Chase’s message of tolerance. He would have done the same as a publisher in the professional media would have done.

I can only guess that he was not willing or ready to do it.