Student defends gay rights in high school newspaper. Principal censors paper and removes journalism instructor.

Amy Sorrell, who taught journalism at Woodlan High School, in Indiana, for four years has started a new job teaching at a private school a few miles away. She was asked to leave her job after one of her students wrote a piece for the school newspaper which sympathized with homosexuals. Sorrell was publisher of the paper.

A sophomore wrote the editorial for the Woodlan Tomahawk after a friend told her he was gay. Part of it read, “it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you.” The article also noted suicide rates for gay youth and questioned religious condemnation of homosexuality.

U.S. high school administrators can legally censor material before it’s published. In the 1988 case “Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier,” the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school-financed publications are not official public forums and, therefore, should have lesser First Amendment protections than independent newspapers.

Jackie Suess, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana said, “The purpose of a journalism class is to teach First Amendment values and not to teach kids about censorship and prior review.”

Photo: Joe Raymond, AP

3 thoughts on “Student defends gay rights in high school newspaper. Principal censors paper and removes journalism instructor.

  • September 25, 2008 at 1:59 pm
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    My 14 year old son told me his freshman English teacher said to the class that all gays should be put on an island by themselves and that she openly hates gays. I am angry about this and wonder what I should say or do?

  • December 3, 2008 at 3:09 am
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    Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier was only to censor for articles that are either inappropriate for the content the contain or if they blatantly distract students. This case just sounds like it is simply a case of the principal being offended because it doesn’t share his perspective on the subject.

  • April 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm
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    I myself am a bisexual student in high school (as of April 28, 2009). This sort of thing really makes me wonder. A teacher was “asked” to leave, just because she allowed an article sympathizing with homosexuals to be published?

    I believe Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier ended with a faulty Supreme Court decision. As long as the article’s aren’t blatantly inappropiate (like naming pregnant teens or “verbally” attacking students or staff) or distract students during classes, the no student or staff member should be made to suffer for a published article.

    Also, riddle me this…

    Public schools are part of the government, correct? Paid for by the government, overseen by government? Doesn’t that garuantee the first amendment as fully as possible? If government money is the core of a school’s budget, or if the government oversees the school, then isn’t the school a government building? True, the distracting/irresponsible articles should be censored, but otherwise, they need to be left alone.

    Right?

    This country confuses me. And this article is a perfect example of why…

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