Illinois high school to remove paper adviser over drug articles

ILLINOIS — A veteran teacher who refused to resign herpost as newspaper adviser for Naperville Central High School said she was toldby administrators today that this will be her last year as adviser andjournalism teacher.

The removal comes amid Principal Jim Caudill’sdecision to review the Central Times editorial policy after he said aFebruary newspaper spread on marijuana use “seemed to glorify druguse” and use unnecessary profanity.

“We’re concerned aboutthe safety and welfare of our students,” he said.

Linda Kane, who hasbeen the Central Times adviser for 19 years, said administratorsdisapproved of comments she made in a March 7 article in a local commercialnewspaper, the Daily Herald, in which she defended the staff’s useof profanity and decision to run the articles. She told the Daily Herald

that school administrators “don’t know squat” about FirstAmendment law.

Caudill told the Student Press Law Center last week that heis waiting for feedback from the school’s attorneys about thepolicy change but that he does not wish to exercise prior review.

At thattime he did not mention removing Kane as adviser but said he hoped to sit downwith her in the coming weeks to discuss her position.

Kane saidadministrators told her last week she could either resign by March 14 or shewould be relieved of her journalism duties at the school, meaning she could onlyteach English until she reaches retirement in two years. On Friday, when she hadnot resigned, she was given a letter of reprimand, and on Monday she was given aformal letter telling her she would be relieved of her post at the end of theschool year. She has not yet decided whether to take legal action.

Kanesaid not being adviser in her last two years will cost her $12,000 in salary andalso will affect her retirement because Illinois law uses a teacher’s lastfour years of pay to determine the size of a pension.

Kane said the letterof reprimand gave “silly” reasons for her removal as adviser. Thereasons included facial expressions she made while the principal spoke to thenewspaper staff about the profanity and drug articles, as well as the commentsshe made to the Daily Herald.

“They told me I had no businessmaking remarks like that,” she said.

Frank LoMonte, executivedirector of the SPLC, said the organization has seen numerous instances ofschools trying to get around the First Amendment prohibition on censorship bytrumping up personnel actions against journalism advisers.

“We areclosely monitoring this situation and we urge school authorities to considercarefully whether Ms. Kane was retaliated against for protecting herstudents’ rights,” LoMonte said.

Superintendent Alan Leis saidthe principal ultimately makes the decision on whether someone should continueas adviser.

“It’s a concern when any coach or sponsormakes comments questioning the motivation of administration,” he said.

“But mostly this just makes me sad. I’ve heard from many studentswho talk about what an incredibly wonderful job she did.”

Kane saidthe whole issue began over the Feb. 28 newspaper spread.

“It allstarted with the articles and it’s escalated into a personnel matterbecause I spoke up on behalf of my staff,” she said.

HannahOppenheimer, Central Times editor in chief, saidthe studentpaper’s Feb. 28 issue included a column opposing drug use, an anonymousfirst-person story about using and selling drugs, and an objective story aboutthe effects of marijuana.

Caudill said the first-person account is whatconcerned him the most.

“They allowed him to use the F-word fourtimes,” Caudill said. “The bottom line is I have no problemunderstanding that story without those words in it.”

The issue upsetmuch of the high school’s staff, he said.

“I’ve had threephone calls, which is not the end of the world, but our staff is just bonkersover it and they just think it glorifies [drug use],” he said. “Thelanguage probably bothered them a little less than it didme.”

Oppenheimer said the profanity complied with the studenteditorial policy, which states profanity can be used if it is in a direct quoteand is pertinent to the article. She said the principal would be infringing onstudents’ First Amendment rights by changing the policy in regard tolanguage.

LoMonte said it is constitutionally questionable whether a strictno-profanity policy could be enforced.

“There are times when aparticular word is central to the telling of a story, and it is not in any waydisruptive or inconsistent with the school’s educational function.”

Caudill said the Central Times is “one of the best papers inthe country.”

“A good newspaper is going to be controversial, Iunderstand that,” he said. “99.99 percent of the time it’san incredible paper.”

Kane said she was asked to start the CentralTimes in 1989.

“I began the program almost 19 years ago. I havereally close ties, really close feelings to this program,” she said.

A message left with the student activities director, who was involved indiscussions between Kane and administrators, was not returned by Mondayafternoon. Caudill did not return a message left with him Monday.