Indiana journalism teacher settles First Amendment lawsuit involving newspaper, yearbook

An Indiana high school newspaper and yearbook adviser has settled her lawsuit against Greater Clark County Schools, though the terms are not yet known.

Kelly Short sued the public school corporation in January, claiming school officials retaliated against her for supporting the First Amendment rights of students. Following a year of tension over the student newspaper, Jeffersonville High School Principal James Sexton sent Short two written directives in summer 2011. Among the requirements were that the newspaper would no longer be considered a “forum for student expression,” and that administrators would begin reviewing it prior to publication. Sexton also insisted on specific requirements for the yearbook, including that it prominently display the school colors, categorize all school staff by category and distinguish between sports seasons, according to court documents.

Short was placed on suspension in November, three months after her attorney sent Sexton a letter declaring the new policies unconstitutional and demanding they be rescinded.

Short’s attorney, Dan Canon, said the settlement was “a fair resolution that was best for my client in the long run, as it allows her to move forward with her career without going through another year or two of litigation.” He declined to comment further.

A Greater Clark County Schools spokeswoman referred requests for comment to attorney Tom Wheeler. Wheeler could not be reached for comment after repeated attempts.

In court documents filed prior to the settlement, GCCS claimed Short was suspended, and later recommended for termination, for “numerous violations of Board policy and Ms. Short’s direct bullying of GCCS students.” In the documents, school officials claim an audit revealed a $41,000 debt owed to the yearbook publisher. School officials claimed Short tried to cover up the debt by entering into payment plans and contracts with the publisher without permission, and that “students also indicated to investigators that Ms. Short had bullied, harassed and intimated them into trying to pay this shortfall and that when they could not she berated and threatened them, all against School Board policy.”

Short denied those claims, with her attorney in court documents calling them “factual distortions.”

It was unclear whether Short would continue teaching at Jeffersonville High School, or whether Sexton’s directives would remain in effect.

A reporter for the Student Press Law Center filed a public records request seeking additional information about the settlement.