Student journalists avenge
Ethics charges protest advisor's dismissal
FLORIDA — Student journalists are fighting for their rights as their adviser fights for her job.
Mosley High School journalism students and their parents asked the state Commissioner of Education on Nov. 19 to investigate the actions of Mosley’s principal and superintendent, whom students claim censored their paper by removing their adviser.
“The ethics charges are being lodged against the principal, new adviser, an administrative assistant and guidance counselor at Mosley for various violations of the professional code of conduct for educators,” said Gloria Pipkin of the group, the Friends of the Student Press, who wrote the complaint.
On the same day, former newspaper adviser ReLeah Lent filed suit in U.S. district court claiming her First Amendment rights to free speech and academic freedom were violated by the principal and superintendent who fired her “due to her unwillingness to force students to accede to censorship directives” said a press release.
Lent says that until she is reinstated as adviser to the award-winning Making Waves, she and Mosley’s journalism students “will be chilled in the exercise of their free speech rights.”
Claiming that he wanted Making Waves to take a “new direction,” principal Bill Husfelt removed Lent last June.
Students claim that Husfelt removed Lent in order to better control the content of their stories.
“The principal just wants to make sure that we write articles that are positive about the school, things he wants us to write about,” said co-editor Lorine Stewart, who explained that Lent had allowed students broad editorial responsibility.
Students feel their new adviser, Carolyn England, is more supportive of the principal than she is of the Making Waves staff.
“She doesn’t seem to care a whole lot,” said Stewart. “The whole atmosphere of the classroom has changed. People’s hearts are not in it.”
According to Stewart, tensions ran high when England refused to distribute the editorial guidelines that Making Waves had been using for years because of a provision that allowed the editorial board to override the adviser.
When instructed to remove that sentence, Stewart said she told England, “It1s a student-run paper. If you have the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ than it is no longer a student paper.”
Husfelt suggested to Stewart that editors come to him if they disagreed with England.
Stewart was baffled by this idea. “The adviser is supposed to help the students, and sometimes protect us from the administration,” she said. “People are stabbing us in the back.”
Husfelt has called Lent a “fantastic teacher” and also praised the Making Waves staff.
“These are great kids, and very good at what they do. But they need a guiding hand that needs to change at this time,” said Husfelt in an article in the News Herald explaining why he had removed Lent.
Students believe Lent was removed due to a controversy regarding an advertisement.
In late spring of 1997, Husfelt censored an ad for a gay and lesbian support group that Making Waves staff unanimously voted to print.
After Lent consulted a local reporter for advice, Husfelt accused her of airing the school’s “dirty laundry.”
The ad did not run.
Husfelt told Lent in early June that he would not recommend her return as Making Waves’ adviser to the superintendent, who accepted Husfelt’s decision.
Students begged Lent to challenge her removal.
At a meeting in September, the school board heard from students, parents and community members, but found that Husfelt had not violated the students’ press rights by firing Lent.
“It is not [the] school board’s authority to circumvent the authority of the principal or the superintendent,” school board chairman, Ron Danzey told the News Herald.
The students’ attorney, Pam Sutton, suggested after the meeting that the board did not fully understand the constitutional issue at stake.
Lent’s attorney, Ron Meyer, hopes the court will see things differently.
“It’s an uphill swim but we’ve got a good client and good facts behind us,” said Meyer.
Mosley High School officials did not return phone calls from the Report.
advisers, reports, Winter 1997-98