Indiana high school adviser removed from position after paper reports on student charged with murder

A teacher suspended over a story in the high school newspaper about a student arrested on murder charges has been permanently removed from his post as adviser.

Chad Tuley, an English and journalism teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, will no longer advise the student newspaper Pilot Flashes but has returned to his other teaching duties after the weeklong suspension.

He was suspended with pay Nov. 12 on charges of insubordination. Administrators claim he failed to follow directions to withhold a story on a student arrested at the high school and charged with murder.

According to the Associated Press, Tuley will not fight his removal from the newspaper.

“If that’s the direction they want to go, I’m going to accept that,” he told the news organization.

Seventeen-year-old Christopher Pitcock was arrested Oct. 26 and charged with murder in connection with the stabbing and beating of a 67-year-old man. His sister also attends the public high school.

Tuley said he was made aware of concerns over the story via e-mail from Principal Kevin Koers but was never asked to censor it from the student publication.


Koers did not return calls seeking comment.

News editor Jennifer Searcy said the staff is trying to meet deadlines while also determining how to stand up for Tuley.

Searcy called Tuley a hands-off adviser who allows students to work through their own decision-making processes while pushing them toward excellence.

During his suspension last week, students at school donned T-shirts with the words “Free Tuley” and staged a walkout in protest of the administration’s actions.

The chairman of the school’s English department told the Indianapolis Star he would appoint an interim adviser or serve as adviser himself.

SPLC View: While the Utica High School case, above, provides hope, this situation reminds us how desperate the situation high school journalism is in. One can only wonder what lesson administrators are trying to convey to the students at Franklin Central. The Pilot Flashes simply attempted to cover one of the biggest stories to occur in a school community in an accurate, non-sensationalistic manner. No credible news organization could ignore a student being charged with murder.

But advisers – unlike their students – are employees that, absent a clearly unlawful directive (which this act of censorship very likely would have been), are generally obligated to follow their bosses’ orders. In this case, school officials claim they told the adviser to censor the story. The adviser says that is not what happened. Too often school officials, not wanting to be known as “censors,” push their dirty work onto advisers’ shoulders, using cryptic language that leaves advisers and student journalists guessing what is or is not allowed. The best way an adviser can avoid being caught in this trap is get clarification in writing. Send a written memo to the school official confirming your understanding of his or her orders and asking for immediate clarification if you have misunderstood. And if that order is to censor, convey that as a professional journalism educator you believe the decision to be bad one but will do what you have been told to do. At the very least, this assures that if an administrator wants a story censored, he or she will be held accountable. And if censorship occurs, students can choose to fight it without an accusation of adviser insubordination thrown into the mix.