Former adviser’s lawsuit will cost Indiana district $40,000, unspecified legal costs

An Indiana school corporation paid former journalism adviser Kelly Short $40,000 to settle her First Amendment lawsuit.

According to a settlement agreement obtained through a public records request, Greater Clark County Schools agreed to pay Short the money through its insurance carrier, and allowed her to formally resign rather than have her contract cancelled. In exchange, Short agreed to drop her lawsuit and acknowledge she did not prevail in court.

Short did not receive any additional reimbursement for her attorney fees under the terms of the settlement. The school corporation refused to disclose how much it paid to defend against the litigation, claiming the attorneys representing it are paid by the school’s insurance carrier. A school corporation spokeswoman said it is not provided with billing statements from the law firm.

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 at 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.

The school corporation placed Short on suspension in November. Prior to the settlement, lawyers for the school argued in court documents that Short put the yearbook $41,000 in debt, then tried to cover it up — claims Short’s attorney denied as “distortions.”

The settlement agreement made no mention of Sexton’s directives about student publications, suggesting they will remain in force.

Editors of the newspaper at Jeffersonville told the Student Press Law Center in January that relations with administrators had improved under a new adviser, though the publication is now subject to prior review.

Short’s attorney, Dan Canon, said in April that 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,” but declined further comment.