FLORIDA — Two Miami area teachers were recognized inMay for their fight to maintain press freedom, almost four yearsafter they sponsored a protest in front of the Miami-Dade County SchoolBoard.
Brenda Feldman, a teacher at Coral Gables Senior High Schooland Shirley Yaskin, a teacher at Miami Palmetto Senior High School,were honored May 9 by the Celebrate Free Speech project, a programrun by the Florida chapter of People For the American Way. Twoother members of the Miami media were honored, including late radiobroadcaster Emilio Emillian, who lost his legs in a car bombingafter he criticized political violence, and broadcaster Tomas GarciaFuste, who was kicked off the air after endorsing a gay-rightsmeasure.
"We were surprised because it happened so long ago. Itwas certainly confirmation of what we do every day in the classroom.We teach kids the importance of the First Amendment. If you canlearn about it in history class you should be able to practiceit in journalism class," Yaskin said. "We were amazedto have won the award because of the company we were with whoreceived the other awards."
Feldman said the award acted as a reminder of why it is importantto educate the public about their rights and privileges.
"I think what we’ve done underscores the importance ofthis being continuing education of the public and in particularschool administrators. That’s what it meant to me," she said.
Feldman and Yaskin believe they were nominated by Janet McAliley,a former school board member who was supportive ofthe student press.
"People saw us as putting our jobs on the line, becauseteachers aren’t supposed to protest I guess, what their superiorsare telling them. But we believed that we were doing the rightthing," Yaskin said.
The two teachers led their students, and others from aroundthe district, in protest of a proposed change that would havemade Miami-Dade schools conform with the guidelines set out bythe U.S. Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v.Kuhlmeier. The changes would have allowed prior reviewand restraint of the student press. The district had always beensupportive of the student press in the past, and actually submitteda brief to the Supreme Court in Hazelwood, arguing againstcensorship.
"It’s a process of constant re-education. And I thinkwinning the award after the fact like this really reaffirmed that,that we have to keep going," Feldman said. "I thinkmy students were extremely proud. One of my students, who hadreceived an invitation, framed it for me. He framed not only theinvitation along with a reproduction of an article about studentpress rights that appeared in the Miami Herald at the time.And on the back he wrote, his inscription was to me, thankingme for teaching him what First Amendment was all about. So thatwas pretty special."