Wash. teacher who advised independent publications fired

WASHINGTON — Cascade High School teacher and former newspaperadviser Kay Powers was fired Nov. 2 by the Everett School District for allegedlyviolating district policies while helping students produce an undergroundnewspaper and literary magazine.

“It was the only school paper … we felt obligated to get itout,” Powers said.

A district investigation concluded that Powers and other students hadproduced the newspaper the Free Stehekin and the literary magazineTyro Libre on school computers in violation of district policy. Further,district officials said she had allowed a student to skip class to work on thenewspaper, drove students home in her car without parental permission and hadallowed students to use school computers to produce the publications.

Powers said she will appeal her termination in an open hearing. She calledher firing “too heavy-handed” and plans to dispute some of thecharges against her.

“I’m pretty confident that there’s going to be someserious questions in the judge’s mind that I should be fired for what Idid,” she said.

Mike Wartelle, the director of the Everett Education Association, said thedistrict’s response “lacked proportionality.”

“We think the district has mixed the individual employee involvementinto their vendetta against student press rights,” he said.”It’s definitely out of proportion to what may or may have notoccurred.”

In February, Superintendent Carol Whitehead met with the student editorialboard of the Free Stehekin and with Powers to remind them that thepublications had to be produced off campus. Powers was placed on administrativeleave in May after officials alleged she continued to violate district policy.David Whittemore, who served as the paper’s managing editor, also wassuspended and nearly expelled after he was caught using a school computer todownload files for the newspaper from his e-mail account.

Kathy Schrier, the president of the Washington Journalism EducationAssociation, said she believed Whitehead and the district were trying to make it”impossible” for Powers to help produce the publications.

“They just do not want students to have the opportunity to have anauthentic voice in their student publications,” Schrier said.

The district has been the subject of similar criticism over the past fewyears. In 2005 two Everett High School student editors sued the district after anew principal instituted prior review of the student newspaper, TheKodak. The lawsuit was settled in August. While the U.S. District Courtupheld the district’s right to review school-sponsored student mediabefore it went to the printer, it emphasized that school administrators couldnot prohibit its publication.

Powers was the adviser of both the newspaper and the literary magazine whenstudents decided to move them underground in 2005 to avoid the prior reviewpolicy, which had also been enacted at Cascade High School. Students at EverettHigh School also created an underground paper, the IndependentKodak.

Schrier said Power’s firing is a direct result of thedistrict’s attitude towards the student press.

“This is fallout from a bad policy and from a stubborn superintendentwho refuses to face the fact that she created a repressive atmosphere for thestudent press,” she said.

Neither the district nor Superintendent Whitehead could comment on thecase, according to a spokeswoman.