Feb 26, 2007

principal without principle: another free speech case

Via Ed Brayton, word of another principal on a power trip:
A student editorial in the Woodlan Junior-Senior High School newspaper calling for more tolerance for gays and lesbians sparked the principal to seek approval of each edition before it goes to print and issue a written warning against the journalism teacher....

Sophomore Megan Chase wrote an opinion piece – her first for the newspaper – that appeared in the Jan. 19 issue of the Woodlan Tomahawk that questioned people who believe it’s wrong to be gay or lesbian. Chase said she wrote the piece after a friend disclosed to her he was gay.

“I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today’s society,” Chase wrote. “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. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they’re just different than you.”

Principal Edwin Yoder wrote a letter to the newspaper staff and journalism teacher Amy Sorrell insisting he sign off on every issue. 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 not carrying out her responsibilities as a teacher. He accused her of exposing Woodlan students, who are in grades seven through 12, to inappropriate material and said if she did not comply with his orders she could be fired.

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

Melin said EACS has had a policy since 2003 that states principals have the authority to review each issue of a student publication before it goes to print. It’s up to the individual principal how he or she wants to enforce it, Melin said.
This is why Bruce Ramsey has it exactly backward: the issue of student censorship isn't about power-hungry English teachers, but about power-drunk principals who want to personally control the school paper. The more I think about it, the more I see just how badly we need HB 1307.


Nuss said...

Thanks for the heads up on this one, and I'm glad to see you come around! Unfortunately, this stuff is a lot more common than people know -- it's just rare that it gets publicized like this one.

You'll be happy to know that HB 1307 is now scheduled for a second reading and debate and is likely to be voted on in the next couple of weeks ... contact your legislators!

Loganite said...

The situation is from Fort Wayne, Ind., but it easily could have happened here in Washington. If you read the USA Today opinion piece by the Grandview (Wash.) High School principal, in her capacity as president of the Association of Washington School Principals, you see that the Indiana situation might as well have happened in our own back yards. It's the notion that kids have to be protected from themselves that is so bothersome to me.

Even worse: In many schools students wouldn't even propose an editorial about tolerance because, ironically, a divergent viewpoint would be mocked, shouted down or never even see print due to the intimidation and inability of students to gain the approval of the principal. The poorly decided Hazelwood case is not a license to censor. It establishes a lower threshold for administrators to limit expression for legitimate educational purposes. It should still be rare. But it's not.

House Bill 1307 is headed for the House floor as soon as this week. Keep the pressure on!