Reprehensible action by a principal…

Linda Kane

(You may notice this posting changing frequently…due to new information becoming available.)

While I’ve only been teaching a few years, I have had the occasional run-in with the administration. As the figureheads of authority to thousands of students, they make the rules on campus – and have more power than many can imagine.

For example – they pretty much decide who to hire and who to keep (until tenure offers some shelter). They make the final decisions about what classes are assigned to which staff. They run the campus as their private kingdom…within the parameters allowed by the feds, state, and district.

So much for the lead-in.

High school newspaper teacher and advisor Linda Kane (Naperville High School, Illinois) was asked to resign by Principal Jim Caudill…she refused and was reassigned to teach other classes. So she will continue to teach…a shining example of a total waste of talent. All of this instigated by a man who just recently confessed that he plagiarized parts of a speech given to honors students this year from a speech given by a former student/now staff member at the high school.

What caused Caudill’s reaction? Here’s what the Student Press Law Center has to say:

Hannah Oppenheimer, Central Times editor in chief, said the student paper’s Feb. 28 issue included a column opposing drug use, an anonymous first-person story about using and selling drugs, and an objective story about the effects of marijuana.
Caudill said the first-person account is what concerned him the most.
“They allowed him to use the F-word four times,” Caudill said. “The bottom line is I have no problem understanding that story without those words in it.”

Editor Oppenheimer said that removing the offensive words would have taken away the writer’s voice and affected how readers saw his account.

This goes beyond the conflict about what was published in the student paper though. Kane, in an interview with The Daily Herald, a local newspaper, said that, “tha administrators didn’t know squat” about the First Amendment. She feels she is being punished for her remarks.

I am open to reasonable arguments and discussions about freedoms of speech and the press and am willing to place my job on the line, knowing I am right in protecting these rights. So are many others – there is a buzz…no a resounding roar…on the Journalism Education Association listserve today. The Naperville School Board is getting hammered as I type by emails from across the nation from teachers who are outraged at the actions of the principal, asking the board to consider and reinstate her.

Here’s an example of the ire of educators from Wayne Brasler, University of Chicago high school. A man with 45 years before the chalkboard (now white board I hope):

A slippery slope because what is controversial in the administrator’s mind may not be in the adviser’s mind…
…if administrators wanted to discipline Linda they could have done so while still placing the concern for students first. Denying students at that school the experience of being taught and advised by one of the premier people in the field, while she is still in the building, does not place the students first. It places the adults first. The eight-page Central Times issue the staff published gives detailed documents to the rich education and experience this teacher provided. She could have been disciplined and punished for behavior which doesn’t involve the students, and even been required to sign to certain agreements…and still continued teaching.
We need to be careful that we teach our children well. We need to be careful we aren’t teaching them that corporate loyalty and preserving appearances is more important than intelligence and honesty.
If public relations is being placed before education it’s not the first time and it’s not the last time. Ironic, because the best publications give their schools quality public relations they couldn’t get from any high-priced agency. There’s nothing like the sweet perfume of success and honor to make a school look good.

And this, from Randy Swikle, director of JEA, Illinois.

“…to deny the students at Naperville Central of having one of the best high school journalism teachers and publications advisers in the nation when that person will still be at the school and where no equal replacement can possibly be found is not fine. The students should not be denied an extraordinary, life-affecting educational experience because the adults have a problem.”

By the way, Illinois is a “Hazelwood” state, referring to the Supreme Court decision in 1988 which stated that student newspapers that are not student forums have less freedom than those which are student forums. An important ruling – one that allows administrators nearly complete authority over what goes in student publications. California is not a Hazelwood state…and in addition, part of the Education Code specifically outlines who can oversee content (the advisor) and what they can control (English conventions, journalistic standards, clear and present danger).

Keep an eye on this case…since it is nearly 5pm here on the West coast, the matter may already be under discussion in the Board chambers in Naperville.
(6/3 @ 7:15pm – I just learned that tonight’s meeting concerns the the allegation that Caudill plagiarized material for a speech…but that parents may be taking action on behalf of Kane.)

Final comments (and I am agonizing over this posting and have re-written it several times):
As a former advisor, I know there are pitfalls to overseeing student media. One group of rowdy lower class-women wanted to do a survey on what words people thought were offensive. No to that one…they were testing me, as they later admitted. A student government advisor inadvertently brought up the full details of what happened to a student who was disciplined for plagiarism during an open meeting of student council. Yes – that got in (and handled very sensitively by one of my writers). Should a sophomore’s first hand account of observing students having sex in a darkened classroom during a movie be banned? No.
Let the young journalists make the decisions and they will amaze you with their maturity – as I feel Kane’s students did with their decisions. The battle over what is and is not offensive and what is and is not necessary to a story is one fought every day in newsrooms…and the decisions that follow these discussions vary greatly, depending on those involved and the community they serve. One person should not be allowed to silence a voice or a community.

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