Ousted adviser requests hearing after student’s gay tolerance article angered school officials

INDIANA — A Woodlan Junior-Senior High School journalism teacher requested a public hearing this week after she was informed of her possible termination for a conflict with administrators who have accused her of insubordination and an inability to teach.

Amy Sorrell, adviser to The Tomahawk student newspaper and the school yearbook, received a notice on March 29 for her potential contract termination after she was placed on “administrative leave” for undisclosed reasons March 19. The letter clarified the school’s actions by listing seven violations against the school such as insubordination, neglect of duty and “substantial inability to perform teaching duties.”

The conflict arose when an opinion article calling for tolerance of homosexuality was printed in The Tomahawk on Jan. 19, prompting Principal Edwin Yoder to require future prior review of all articles.

At that point, Tomahawk Editor Cortney Carpenter said she and her staff refused to print the newspaper and a revised district student publications policy that was edited by Assistant Superintendent Andy Melin. In response, Sorrell began teaching First Amendment court cases so the students could offer suggestions to Melin on writing a new policy, Sorrell said.

Changing “the prescribed curriculum” was one violation noted in the letter along with her alleged use of the district’s e-mail system to transmit “false or misleading statements to the media,” casting Yoder “in a false light” and her refusal to retract and replace the Tomahawk‘s current editorial policy. The letter also addressed her failure “to provide appropriate instruction and supervision to the yearbook program.”

“The journalism program…would be better served by replacing you with a teacher willing to work collaboratively with, not in conflict with, the building administrator in carrying out the prior review curriculum requirement for school sponsored publications,” the letter said.

Melin said Sorrell has the right to request a hearing prior to the final decision, but the administration views this as a personnel issue that would need to be discussed privately.

“I think it’s in my best interest to have this hearing public so people can be heard,” Sorrell said. “East Allen is trying to turn this into a personnel issue,” Sorrell said. “This is about East Allen’s stance on tolerance and disregard for the First Amendment.”

Melin disagreed, stating that the conflict was never with the content or the newspaper.

“After an investigation, our administrative team felt there was enough justification to put in front of the school board a consideration of termination of contract,” Melin said. “It’s not something administrative that we take pleasure in. We wish that we would not have to go to this extent, but on the other hand, based on what has transpired, we felt that we had no alternative.”

Sorrell said many of the accusations are “not going to hold up” and that she is confident in the amount of support she has.

A response to the hearing request is expected after the district’s spring break, taking place this week, and a final decision on Sorrell’s status as a teacher will take place at the May 1 school board meeting, Sorrell said.

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer

  • High school journalism adviser placed on leave after officials decry homosexuality article News Flash, 3/21/2007
  • Indiana high school students stop publishing paper in protest of prior review policy News Flash, 3/14/2007
  • Indiana high school students now subject to prior review News Flash, 2/28/2007