Ore. adviser's contract not renewed following paper's editorial critiquing dress code

OREGON — Newspaper adviser Loradona May will not be returning toNorth Douglas High School next year after an editorial about enforcement of theschool’s dress code caused controversy.

May’s contract is not being renewed based on the school’scontention that she violated school board policy on freedom of expression, Maysaid. The problem, as she perceives it, stems from this October editorial. Itwas when a parent was offended and complained to the principal, Scott Yakovich,that May became involved.

There were two problems with the editorial, May said. The first being aquote from a teacher that read: “I like the dress code policy; Idon’t want to see where your babies come from,” and the second beinga call for the school to mandate that cheerleader outfits comply with the dresscode as well.

“The principal suggested that I had been irresponsible in not cuttingthat, or having them change that,” May said. “I didn’t see anyway it could be perceived as obscene or inappropriate. When you’re lookingat Oregon law, [if] it’s not libelous, it’s not obscene, itdidn’t cause a disruption–it doesn’t meet the standard forlegally altering statements.”

From that point forward, May said Yakovich insisted on prior reviewingevery issue of the newspaper. Prior to this year, the newspaper has neveroperated under a prior review policy, she said. Oregon’s student freeexpression law places control of the newspaper in the students’ hands, aslong as their work is not unlawful or likely to provide disruption.

“The district is leaning on this policy that says administration mayexercise the right to approve student publications,” May said.

In February, May was informed in a letter from the school board that hercontract would not be renewed for the 2010-2011 school year because of herfailure to “faithfully comply with board policy 1B, ‘Freedom ofExpression.’ ”

Aside from this statement, and the claim that she had encouraged studentsto defy policy as well, May said she was given no reason for the schoolboard’s decision. May has never received a negative review after anadministrative evaluation of her classroom performance.

“What makes me the maddest in this case is that this adviser is beingremoved because she followed the law,” said Mike Hiestand, an attorney forthe Student Press Law Center. “The reality is neither she nor theprincipal, who wants this [the editorial] out, have the legal right to take itout. It was completely lawful and protected speech under Oregon Statelaw.”

After the editorial ran in October, the students tried to engage indialogue with the superintendent, with whom they have had a fairly harmoniousrelationship in the past. Though their attempts did not produce any significantprogress, May feels as though her students have taken valuable lessons from thesituation.

“I think they’ve seen that number one, [students’]opinions, according to the administration, are not as valid as an adult’sopinion,” May said. “And number two, I think they’vediscovered that while maybe not valued, their opinions are every bit as powerfulas anybody else’s.”

A lesson can even be gleaned from the prior review process, she said. Whenthe policy was set in place by the principal, May said she had to teach thestudents that, as journalists, they should be writing their stories withaccuracy in mind–not tailoring them to what they think the principal willapprove of.

“There immediately becomes this danger of students filtering, and notfor the right reasons,” May said. “Not because they have learnedwhat’s appropriate or not appropriate, but filtering for theadministration’s approval.”

May said the administration gave no indication as to the future of thenewspaper, although the school has not released the schedule of classes for nextyear yet.

Yakovich did not return phone calls by press time.