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Ind. principal tightens control of newspaper after editorial on gays

By The Associated Press
02.22.07

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — A high school principal wants to tighten control of the student newspaper after a sophomore wrote an editorial advocating tolerance for homosexuals.

Woodlan High School student Megan Chase said she wrote the piece after a friend told her he was gay.

“I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today’s society,” Chase wrote in the Jan. 19 issue of the Woodlan Tomahawk. “I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you.”

After the article was published, Principal Edwin Yoder wrote a letter to the newspaper staff and journalism teacher Amy Sorrell insisting that future issues be subject to his approval. Sorrell and the students contacted the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group for student newspapers, which advised them to appeal the decision.

Last week, Yoder issued Sorrell a written warning for insubordination and failing to carry out her responsibilities as a teacher. He accused her of exposing students to inappropriate material and warned that she could be fired if she did not comply with his order.

About 10 students attended the East Allen County Schools board meeting Feb. 20 to ask members if the issue could be put on the next meeting’s agenda. Instead, Superintendent Kay Novotny suggested they meet with Assistant Superintendent Andy Melin.

Melin, who said he hadn’t read the editorial, said school officials had an issue not with the topic but with the lack of balance and thoroughness in the opinion piece. Sorrell also should have consulted Yoder before the article was printed, Melin said.

“It is critical for the adviser and the principal to work together as a team to handle articles that are controversial or sensitive,” Melin said.

Melin would not comment on any disciplinary actions taken against Sorrell.

A telephone message left for Yoder at his office yesterday by the Associated Press was returned by Melin. Melin said yesterday that the school district didn’t believe the content of the article was the main issue. He said from Yoder’s perspective, the issue was he had to be involved if the newspaper is going to contain sensitive or controversial articles.

“It’s not a matter of whether it’s right or wrong. It’s a matter of that will probably upset some people in our school and in our community, so let’s approach this thing appropriately,” Melin said. “But the principal never got an opportunity.”

The students also asked the EACS board to clarify its policy on tolerance of homosexuals. Melin said there was no policy and that he did not think the board should write one.

Melin said EACS has had a policy since 2003 that authorizes principals to review each issue of a student publication before it goes to print. Principals choose how to enforce the policy, Melin said.

Melin said Yoder had previously asked Sorrell to bring to him any stories she felt would be controversial. Sorrell said she brought Yoder a piece on teen pregnancy that appeared in the same issue and did not think Chase’s editorial would be a problem.

“I didn’t think anybody would be upset about it,” Sorrell said.


Update
Ind. teacher suspended amid turmoil over school newspaper
Officials place Woodlan Junior-Senior High School journalism instructor on paid leave two months after Tomahawk ran editorial advocating tolerance for homosexuals. 03.20.07

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'The right of free press is more important than the fear of inappropriate content,' says measure's sponsor. 01.22.07

Ind. student's column draws more support from press advocates
Suspension of high school newspaper adviser over opinion backing tolerance for gays is 'real threat to quality student journalism.' 04.23.07

Why we need a strong student press
By Gene Policinski Will adults empowered with prior restraint ultimately be more responsible than students following good journalistic standards? 02.11.07

School: ‘Tolerance’ editorial will not be tolerated
By Gene Policinski Giving Indiana principal prior-review power teaches students that the State's heavy hand can come down even on a plea that gays not be denigrated. 04.08.07

We’re strangling high school free speech, press
By Gene Policinski Between adverse court rulings and antagonistic school officials, students are learning that free expression is not valued. 08.12.07

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