Florida school district settles with ousted adviser

FLORIDA — The former adviser of Mosley High School’s award winning newspaper program settled with the Bay District School Board for $120,000 in June.

ReLeah Lent filed a lawsuit in federal court in 1997 after the principal, claiming he wanted the paper to take a “new direction,” removed her as adviser of Making Waves.”This lawsuit was never about money,” Lent said in a written statement. “It was about principles — student press rights and academic freedom.”

Lent had said she was removed from her job because the principal at the Panama City high school, Bill Husfelt, wanted to control the content of the newspaper.

“All of this conflict and expense could have been avoided,” she said. “The superintendent had the power to re-appoint me as adviser, as both parents and students asked him to do.”

Larry Bolinger, superintendent of Bay Public Schools, told the Panama City News Herald that the authority for the principal to assign personnel has been maintained.

“The whole issue has stemmed from the principal’s decision,” Bolinger said. “He saw that he wanted to assign another person to deliver the instruction program. All principals must have the authority to do so.”

Meanwhile, as part of the settlement, Lent will be allowed to create a speech and debate program at the high school. She will also use $85,000 of her settlement to pay legal fees.

“I am most hopeful that the lawsuit will serve as an incentive to this and future school boards, as well as to our superintendent and school administrators,” Lent said.

“To listen to students as they speak out for what is important to them… and to value, not dismiss, teachers who care enough to stand beside their students in fighting for these basic rights.”