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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ind.Decisions - Even more on "Gay-rights article stirs debate over student freedoms" [Updated]

More today on Amy Sorrell, the faculty sponsor of a high school paper that published an opinion piece by a student urging tolenance for gay students. (For background, start with this ILB entry from April 6th.)

This afternoon Rob Schneider of the Indianapolis Star writes in a brief story:

A teacher at Woodlan-Junior Senior High School in Allen County who was suspended in March after a column appeared in the school newspaper calling for tolerance toward gays, has accepted a settlement with the school district.

Amy Sorrell, 30, said the agreement was to be finalized this afternoon. It calls for her to be transferred to another high school where she will teach English. The agreement bars her from teaching journalism for three years.

Officials of the East Allen County Schools could not be immediately reached for comment.

Sorrell was placed on paid leave on March 19, two months after the school newspaper ran a column by a student about a friend who was gay.

School officials said the column’s content wasn’t suitable for the school paper.

Ese Isiorho of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has a somewhat longer story, headed "Settlement allows Sorrell to continue teaching."
Amy Sorrell will continue teaching, but not journalism and not at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School.

East Allen County Schools Superintendent Kay Novotny put her on paid leave March 19, two weeks after her journalism class refused to print a new district policy in the paper making principals publishers and all material subject to review. The policy was implemented after a column from sophomore Megan Chase published in the school newspaper Jan. 19 urged tolerance of homosexuals.

Sorrell was scheduled to have a public hearing Saturday to explain why she should be allowed to keep her job.

Instead, her lawyer, Pat Proctor, and EACS attorney, Tim McCaulay, agreed this week to settle the matter. Sorrell would only say she’s glad it’s over, and that part of the settlement allows her to teach English at Heritage Junior-Senior High School. She taught journalism and English at Woodlan.

Sorrell has yet to sign the settlement, but said she expected to sometime today.

The school board was supposed to decide Tuesday whether Sorrell would be allowed to keep her job at Woodlan.

[Updated 4/27/07] Krista J. Stockman has an informative story today in the Journal Gazette that reads in part:
Embattled Woodlan Junior-Senior High School journalism teacher Amy Sorrell will continue teaching under an agreement reached Thursday with East Allen County Schools.

The agreement places Sorrell on paid administrative leave for the rest of the school year and requires her to serve a five-day unpaid suspension, said her attorney, Patrick Proctor of Eilbacher Fletcher Attorneys.

The settlement also relocates her to Heritage Junior-Senior High School in the fall. Sorrell’s exact position hasn’t been determined, but it will not be teaching journalism, he said.

“I do not agree with the reprimands that have been issued against me. However, due to my personal financial circumstances, I am not in a position to contest the disciplinary action contained in the written settlement agreement between myself and the school administration,” Sorrell said in a written statement.

Sorrell has been on paid leave since March 19 from her position at Woodlan, where she taught newspaper, yearbook and English, including Advanced Placement English.

She was a popular teacher but lost favor with administrators after a student opinion column suggesting tolerance for homosexuality ran in the student newspaper in January. Shortly after the column ran, Woodlan Principal Ed Yoder notified Sorrell that all newspaper content had to be approved by him prior to publication, and she was given a written warning alleging she ignored her job responsibilities by exposing students to material that may be inappropriate for their age level.

Two months later, on March 19, Sorrell was placed on paid leave and a week later notified that her contract might be terminated for not following directives from Yoder regarding publishing the newspaper, altering the curriculum, placing the district in a false light by issuing false or misleading statements to the media and other allegations.

The board was to decide her fate Tuesday after hearing from both sides during a public hearing scheduled for Saturday. With the settlement, the hearing has been canceled. * * *

The move to Heritage places Sorrell at the high school where she graduated in 1995 and was once the editor of the newspaper.

“I look forward to working with the administration, teachers and the students at Heritage Junior-Senior High School,” Sorrell said. “Heritage is an exceptional school, and I am certain that teaching there will be a rewarding experience.”

The settlement was a matter of choosing between what is best for her own family and the students at Woodlan, said Jack Groch, the Indiana State Teachers Association representative for East Allen County Schools. Sorrell and her husband have two children.

“Amy made the right decision,” he said. “Any good that’s come out of this situation is that Heritage High School is gaining a great teacher. Unfortunately, Woodlan High School and its students are losing a great teacher. I share their sorrow and their pain.”

The ordeal also placed tolerance and freedom-of-speech issues in the forefront in East Allen, and the organizations that supported Sorrell won’t forget that, Groch said.

EACS attorney Tim McCaulay declined to comment on the settlement Thursday, but the district has a news conference scheduled for this morning to talk about the issue.

The AP has this story today. Some quotes:
The agreement calls for school officials to try to find a high school-level English teaching position for Sorrell at Heritage and for her to teach there for at least three years, he said.

Although the settlement does not specifically bar Sorrell from teaching journalism at Heritage, Proctor said the agreement essentially means she will not be teaching such courses for the next three years if she remains at the school.

"The school administration has said in no uncertain terms that she's not going to be given a journalism position. There's also no vacant journalism position at Heritage and the agreement does state that she can't bid out of the position that they give her for three years," he said. * * *

Part of the four-page agreement Sorrell signed with school officials is a written reprimand that states Sorrell neglected her duties as a teacher and was insubordinate in refusing to obey school officials' orders.

In a statement released yesterday, Sorrell said she does not agree with the reprimands but is not financially able to fight the matter.

"Due to my personal financial circumstance, I am not in a position to contest the disciplinary action contained in the written agreement between myself and the school administration," she said in the statement.

Sorrell said she is "very proud" of the student who wrote the editorial, and the paper's other writers and editors.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 26, 2007 04:47 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions