Former adviser alleges college violated 1st Amendment

KANSAS — Although several administrators at Barton County Community College claim they were not responsible for firing student newspaper adviser Jennifer Schartz, her lawsuit against the school and its officials for her termination will continue.

Former college President Veldon Law said in an affidavit, filed May 25 in federal district court, that he recommended Schartz’s contract be renewed, but the Barton County Community College Board of Trustees voted not to renew it. Law, who was fired from the college by the Board of Trustees on July 19 after three former basketball coaches were accused of fraud, declined to answer questions for this story.

The school’s attorney, Randall Henry, has also stated that he is not responsible for Schartz’s firing.

Schartz filed her suit April 1, 2005, in U.S. District Court, claiming her contract was not renewed because she refused to censor the newspaper, the Interrobang.

Schartz is claiming a violation of her First and 14th Amendment rights, and asking to be reinstated as well as for compensation of lost wages.

Schartz was notified on April 20, 2004, that her contract was not being renewed, but has never been told why. Under Kansas law, the college does not have to tell Schartz why she was fired.

Schartz said her difficulties with the administration began in March 2004, when the Interrobang published a letter to the editor criticizing the school’s former basketball coach. Schartz said she later received a letter from the college’s lawyer, Randall Henry, telling her that ”the administration has decided that no letters to the editor will be published which are by and large personal attacks upon other members of the Barton County Community College Family.”

Schartz told Henry that she could not legally censor the students, as it would violate their First Amendment rights.

College Media Advisers censured Barton County Community College in November 2004 for firing Schartz.

”She wasn’t renewed as a teacher because she would not direct her students to cease publishing things critical of the college,” said Gene Anderson, Schartz’s lawyer.

The college’s attorney, Allen Glendenning, however, said Schartz’s non-renewal ”had nothing to do with her First Amendment rights.” He declined to comment further.

In July, the judge refused to dismiss the case against Law but delayed a ruling on a motion of summary judgement.

Case: Schartz v. Barton County Community College, No. Civ.A. 05-2128-KHV, 2005 WL 1799257 (D. Kan. July 13, 2005).