WOODBURN, Ind. — National and state free-speech groups are rallying to
support a northeastern Indiana high school journalism teacher who faces firing
for a dispute that began when a student newspaper published an editorial
advocating tolerance of gays.
Amy Sorrell, who has been a teacher at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School for
four years, was notified on March 29 that the school board would vote May 1 on
terminating her contract.
Administrators outlined seven reasons for firing her, including not following
directives from Principal Ed Yoder regarding the newspaper's editorial policy.
She was also accused of engaging in a campaign that portrayed East Allen County
Schools and Yoder as intolerant.
Those accusations arose from an opinion piece published Jan. 19 in the
school's newspaper, the Woodlan Tomahawk, that questioned intolerance toward
homosexuals. Shortly after the newspaper was distributed, district officials
said the column's content was inappropriate for an audience that includes
children as young as 11 and that it should have been cleared first by Yoder.
Yoder said he would need to approve all future articles, a process known as
prior review and generally disliked by journalism-advocacy groups.
Jack Groch, the Indiana State Teachers Association representative for East
Allen, says Sorrell intends to formally ask for a public hearing before the
school board as well as more detailed information regarding the charges.
Meanwhile, supporters from across the nation are lining up to fight for
Sorrell, who teaches other classes including AP English, and the students' First
The Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group for student newspapers based
in Arlington, Va., is working to find a local attorney to help Sorrell in her
fight, said Adam Goldstein, an attorney for the law center.
He said there were several problems with the school district's
"I'm concerned with the idea that Amy implied school officials were
intolerant," he said. "I think it was censoring the article on tolerance that
implied they were intolerant."
At this point, Goldstein said Sorrell would like to return to her job with
the students' First Amendment rights intact.
"It's not as if there was a controversy about this newspaper that led to
these actions by the district," he said. "There was silence from the community
and then a controversy created by the district's actions."
In recent weeks, Sorrell and her students have also received support from the
Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Indiana High School
Press Association and journalism professors and experts at Indiana and Ball
The Society of Professional Journalists also plans to continue supporting
Sorrell and her students, said John Krull, president of the Indiana Professional
Chapter. He said the district overreacted to the column, and continues to
"It's bad enough they took out a shotgun to kill a gnat, but the fact they
keep reloading and blowing holes in the wall doesn't inspire confidence," Krull