Adviser ousted from job in ongoing censorship dispute at Baltimore high school

MARYLAND — Tara Williams never thought that standingup for her and her students’ First Amendment rights would costthe Baltimore Southern High School adviser her job.

But that is exactly what happened, Williams said, when principalThomas Stephens declined to renew her contract. Although she wasgiven no formal reasoning behind the school system’s decision– administrators do not have to provide one to provisional teacherswithout permanent teaching credentials — Williams is convincedthat the decision is a result of a controversy that has swirledaround the school newspaper, The Bulldog.

"I truly do believe that it is in relation to the articles,"Williams said.

Williams said trouble arose when Stephens reprimandedher and demanded prior review after publication of the Februaryissue of The Bulldog, which documented criticism of theschool system’s controversial plan to convert the school intoa technology magnet school next fall.

Stephens, who was unavailable for comment, did not approvethe March issue, which included a front page that showed a studentholding a sign that read "I’ve Been Censored" and articlescritical of unsafe conditions at the school. Students printedand distributed the unsanctioned issue on Southern’s campus. Williamsattached a copy of the issue to her classroom door and refusedto remove it at Stephens’ request.

After no issues were published in April or May, state Sen.George W. Della Jr., a Southern alumnus, offered the studentshis assistance in publishing an underground version of TheBulldog if the paper and the school could not come to an agreement.

"If the matter regarding the newspaper is not resolvedI would make resources available to you and your colleagues topublish an underground (sorry for the terminology) newspaper thatwould allow you to report in a truthful manner the conditionsat Southern," Della wrote to the students in May.

Students, however, decided to accept the school’s offer topublish a final issue in June with Stephens’ prior review. Stephenswas unavailable for comment.

Despite the agreement to resume publication, Williams, whowas hired two years ago to start a journalism program at Southern,still does not have her job back.

"The students are pretty upset that I’ve been dismissed,"Williams said. "I still just don’t see why I was fired fordoing my job."