Iowa school board may repeal protections for media advisers

IOWA — A policy designed to help protect high schoolstudents’ freedom of speech and journalism advisers’ jobs could bein jeopardy as the Johnston Community Board of Education considers repealing it.

The policy up for review was adopted in April 2009 and prevents advisersfrom being “dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred orotherwise retaliated against,” for refusing to censor student speech.

“Students get concerned and feel that they have to self censorthemselves to protect their favorite teachers,” said Tyler Buller, aformer board member and creator of the policy.

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

President Tracey Orman and vice president Jackie Heiser, who both votedagainst the initial policy, remain on the board. Orman and Heiser along withJohn Dutcher, who was not on the board during the vote but spoke against it, areon the committee in charge of the policy review, according to the Des MoinesRegister.

Opponents of the policy met with an attorney who said Iowa law already hasteacher protections, according to the Des Moines Register. They also saidthe anti-retaliation policy would blur the line between free speech andacceptable guidelines for defining curricular standards.

The new proposed policy would get rid of Buller’s change and wouldadd a line stating administrators can review or prohibit students’ speechif the speech has “an indirect impact to the school community,”according to a draft provided by Buller.

Buller said this addition to the policy was the revision that troubled himthe most.

“It’s very vague,” he said. “What speechwon’t have an indirect impact on the school?”

Leslie Shipp, Johnston High School’s newspaper adviser, agreed.

“Anytime you do any kind of student publication someone is eventuallygoing to be unhappy,” she said. “I’ve been lucky thatI’ve had a lot of good principals and superintendents. The pressureusually comes from the parents.”

Shipp, who has been adviser of The Black and White since 1991, saidparents have gone to the principal asking for her removal several times, but theadministration has always been supportive of her and her students.

Iowa law states that students control the content of their publication,with limited exceptions, while advisers are there to help students maintainprofessional standards of English and journalism.

“Many people don’t understand [the state law],” she said.”Tyler’s policy just made our community and board members aware ofIowa law.”

The full board will vote Sept. 13 on whether to revise the policy.

Orman did not return messages for comment.