Adviser protection policy repealed by Iowa school board

IOWA — The Johnston Community School Board on Monday repealeda policy designed to protect high school journalism advisers’ jobs andstudents’ freedom of expression.

On a 4-1 vote, the school board overturned a policy it adopted in April2009 that prevented advisers from being “dismissed, suspended, disciplined,reassigned, transferred or otherwise retaliated against,” for refusing to censorstudent speech.

Board President Tracey Orman, Vice President Jackie Heiser, and membersJulie Walter and John Dutcher voted in favor of abandoning the policy while JillMorrill was the only one to vote against it, according to the Des MoinesRegister.

Although Iowa law requires that students control the content of theirpublications, with limited exceptions, it does not have specific protections forteachers.

The policy originally passed on a 4-3 vote, but since then, three of themembers who voted in favor of it have left the school board.

Vanessa Shelton, executive director of Quill and Scroll, an internationalhonorary society for high school journalists, said the organization supportedthe original policy because there have been instances where administrators havetreated teachers harshly after students voiced their opinions.

“That extra level of protection is important,” she said.

When Shelton heard there was a possibility the policy would be repealed,she wrote a letter to the school board urging them to not vote in favor of it.

Shelton said this is an example of how the general public’s lack ofunderstanding of the law and school boards’ high turnover rates can causeproblems for student journalists.

However, she said it’s possible that the next group of school boardmembers could bring the policy back.

“It can change just as quickly back,” Shelton said. “Wehope.”

Neither Orman nor Heiser returned messages for comment.