Newspaper adviser battles censorship to win USA Todayteacher award

VIRGINIA — A high school journalism teacher fired earlyin her career for refusing to censor a student newspaper willbe honored Friday at USA Today’sheadquarters for beingnamed to the newspaper’s third annual All-USA Teacher First Team.

Teresa "Terry" Nelson will receive a trophy and acheck for $2,500 for her school, Central High School in Muncie,Ind. Nelson has served as adviser to Central High’s biweekly newspaperand yearbook for the past eight years.

But in 1980, after just five years as a teacher at YorktownHigh School in Yorktown, Ind., Nelson was denied tenure. She suedYorktown’s principal for $65,000, claiming that he recommendedto the school board that she be denied tenure in retaliation forher refusal to censor the student newspaper. In her suit, Nelsonasked the court to permanently restrain the principal from attemptingto censor, impose prior restraints on, or otherwise dictate whatwas published in the student newspaper.

Ultimately, the suit was settled out of court with the schoolboard awarding Nelson tenure, striking all unfavorable ratingsfor the year from her personnel file and recognizing in writingthat "the student publications in this school corporationare protected by the First Amendment …" Twelve years later,Nelson was elected to the school board that fired her.

Nelson continues to support her students’ free-press rightsby urging them to tackle tough issues such as teachers’ contractnegotiations. She also helped the newspaper staff to sponsor thinktanks and mini-town-hall meetings when the school’s accreditationwas in jeopardy last year — meetings that Central’s principalcredited with helping get the school off academic probation.

"This is real and this is serious," Nelson told USAToday, referring to student journalists’ work. "Whatthey do does make a difference."