The column in the
student newspaper seemed innocent enough: advocating
tolerance for people ''different than you.''
sophomore Megan Chase's words appeared January 19 in TheTomahawk, the newspaper at Woodlan
Junior-Senior High School in Woodburn, Ind., her newspaper
adviser has been suspended and is fighting for her
job, and charges of censorship and First Amendment
violations are clouding this conservative northeastern
At issue is
whether Chase's opinion column advocating tolerance of gay
people was suitable for a student newspaper distributed
to students in grades 7 through 12 and whether
newspaper adviser Amy Sorrell followed protocol in
allowing the column to be printed.
say the debate has deeper ramifications.
''This is a real
threat to quality student journalism if an adviser can
be removed for not having censored a perfectly legitimate
story that there was no legal reason why it shouldn't
have been published,'' said Mark Goodman, executive
director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington,
in Woodburn, a community of 1,600 residents, 10
miles east of Fort Wayne, say the issue isn't First
Amendment rights but a teacher's failure to live up to
her responsibilities. They contend Sorrell should have
alerted principal Ed Yoder to the article because of
the sensitivity of the material.
''The way we view
it is the broad topic of homosexuality is a sensitive
enough issue in our society that the principal deserves to
know that it's something the newspaper is going to
write about,'' said Andy Melin, assistant
superintendent of secondary education and technology.
Melin said Yoder
would have allowed the article to be printed but likely
would have suggested some changes.
Sorrell has been
placed on administrative leave, and the school district
has recommended she be fired. A public hearing is scheduled
April 28, and the school board expects to vote May 1.
executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom
of the Press, argued that students have access to much more
mature material in the school library and on the
tolerance is controversial?'' she said.
which she wrote after a friend told her he was gay, said
society teaches that ''it is only acceptable for a boy and a
girl to be together,'' which makes declaring one's
''I can only
imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in
today's society,'' she 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.''
She said she was
surprised by school officials' reaction.
''I didn't think
it was any big deal,'' Chase said of the column.
Sorrell, 30, said
she showed the principal four stories about teen
pregnancy, including an opinion piece advocating teaching
safe-sex practices over abstinence education, for the
same January 19 issue because she thought that ''was
going to cause the stir.''
acknowledges she never mentioned Chase's column. ''There
isn't anything controversial about tolerance,'' she
who is president of the Fort Wayne chapter of Parents,
Families, and Friends of Lesbian and Gays and went through
school in the district, said he was disappointed with
the school system's reaction.
''The spirit of
the article is just asking people to consider what your
previous beliefs were about this particular subject,'' he
said. ''There's a difference between tolerance and
But resident Jim
Bridge took a tougher stand.
''We all have
rules that we have to abide by, and it appears that she
hasn't chosen to abide by the rules,'' Bridge said. ''I own
my own business and anybody that did that to me would
be fired on the spot. She knew it had to be
daughter of a newspaper editor, said she thought she knew
what was acceptable in the school district, where she has
taught English for four years.
''I'd still make
that same judgment,'' she said. (Tom Coyne, AP)