Teachers’ union: Student article was inappropriate
LVN Staff Writer
The Churchill County Education Association said a student newspaper article critical of the selection process for Honor Choir should never have been printed.
The CCEA filed a grievance against Churchill County School District requesting the article not be printed. This action consequently evoked issues of student First Amendment rights in both local and national news.
Nevertheless, CCEA President April Chester stated in a press release the article should not have been released because in doing so, a teacher’s rights were violated.
Student Lauren Mac Lean’s article “Choirgate” was published late Thursday on local news Web sites and Friday in the Churchill County High School Newspaper, “The Greenwave Flash.”
The student article focused on parent accusations alleging CCHS music teacher Kathy Archey failed to submit audition tapes for the Nevada Music Educators Association Honor/All State Choir Program and told students they were rejected.
“We agree the student newspaper has rights but not the same rights as a regular newspaper,” Chester said. “It is inappropriate and disruptive to the teaching-learning environment to air parent complaints about teachers in a school newspaper. By allowing the article to run, the district violated its own policies and showed a lack of common sense.
“The district violated its own policies assuring confidentiality of personnel matters and fair and objective teacher evaluations.”
Superintendent Carolyn Ross said the article did not fall into such categories.
“This is not a teacher evaluation, this is a student article,” Ross said. “Our policy has nothing to do with what a student is writing.”
Margie Nuttall, CCEA teachers’ rights co-chair, said the district violated parental complaints procedures and policy.
“There’s a procedure for handling parent complaints,” Nuttall said. “I really feel the district, for not following their own procedure for handling complaints, allowed misinformation and speculation to just mushroom.”
Ross said information concerning parent complaints made to the district was never released.
“Those (parent complaints) are not being made public. They are much different than what is in the article,” Ross said. “The student published this information and all parties had the opportunity to participate and some chose not to.”
Jake Highton, a University of Nevada, Reno journalism professor who teachers First-Amendment rights, said the teachers’ association is out of line.
“Students have the same First Amendment rights as adults,” he told the LVN on Friday. “If the facts are there, then they (student journalists)should be respected.”
He cited several court cases that give students the right to publish articles as long as they do not cause a disruption.
“Because you are offended, you don’t have a leg to stand on,” he said of the CCEA’s action in attempting to quash the article.
Highton said this was a fair story that sketched out the controversy. He said school administrators can remove a story but not a teachers’ union.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said the First Amendment guaranteed the student’s right to publish the article.
“These grievances are misguided if they suggest that either a principal or an adviser can just make editorial judgments at will,” LoMonte said. “Legally, their hands are tied by the First Amendment.”
Nuttall said the union’s grievance was not an attempt to circumvent the First Amendment but was intended to ensure false or biased information didn’t harm a teacher. Nuttall said an amateur journalist can be biased while collecting facts by only searching for information that would lead to a certain conclusion.
“The whole thing wasn’t about freedom of speech,” Nuttall said. “It was that the district needed to be sure that the facts were straight in that article. I don’t believe that they did that … She (Mac Lean) is a very talented young lady, but she is a child. I think our children sometimes have more zeal than knowledge.”
The Lahontan Valley News also re-checked Mac Lean’s sources and found them to be fair.
Mac Lean said she worked with outside advisers with the University of Nevada, Reno and in California, and she attempted to acquire Archey’s side but was told “no comment.”
“I did everything I could to make sure my story was factual and fair,” Mac Lean said. “I wrote the article in a way that it wasn’t attacking Kathy Archey … It was really hard. There was so much on the line – peoples’ jobs, peoples’ reputations.”
LoMonte said school newspapers are generally accurate and in some cases more accurate than professional publications.
“People are surprised sometimes by the workmanship that goes into student journalism,” LoMonte said. “Student journalist take their work very seriously. Students in fact tend to be exceptionally careful because they know they have to live with the consequences. They’re writing about people who are authority figures who are intimidating to them.”
After the initial stories concerning the union were released, the CCEA filed a second grievance against Ross for releasing information concerning the original grievance.
“The school district should not have released any additional information regarding Archey’s personnel matters, and now we’re being cast as trying to suppress the student reporter’s rights,” added Chester.
Ross said the information released to the public did not have anything confidential in it.
Nuttall said the CCEA does not file grievances unless the district has violated the contract, Master Agreement or policy, and the CCEA believes the district has.
“Our grievance is to resolve differences with the district administration and to protect our member’s rights, which have clearly been violated,” Chester said. “We will continue to fight to enforce all our teachers’ contractual and legal rights until justice has been served.”
Ross said the district has not violated any agreement or policy.
“Our interpretation and our analysis is ‘no, we have not,’ and agreement can’t surpass law.” Ross said. “Our attorney is saying no we have not done that.”
“Contrary to what is being said, we are not going after any other teachers, blocking the rights of the press, or trying to muzzle anyone,” concluded Chester. “Our grievance is to resolve differences with the district administration and to protect our member’s rights, which have clearly been violated. We will continue to fight to enforce all our teachers’ contractual and legal rights until justice has been served.”