Wash. teacher who advised independent publications fired

District says Powers allowed students to use school computers for underground paper, lit mag

WASHINGTON -- Cascade High School teacher and former newspaper adviser Kay Powers was fired Nov. 2 by the Everett School District for allegedly violating district policies while helping students produce an underground newspaper and literary magazine.

"It was the only school paper ... we felt obligated to get it out," Powers said.

A district investigation concluded that Powers and other students had produced the newspaper the Free Stehekin and the literary magazine Tyro Libre on school computers in violation of district policy. Further, district officials said she had allowed a student to skip class to work on the newspaper, drove students home in her car without parental permission and had allowed students to use school computers to produce the publications.

Powers said she will appeal her termination in an open hearing. She called her firing "too heavy-handed" and plans to dispute some of the charges against her.

"I'm pretty confident that there's going to be some serious questions in the judge's mind that I should be fired for what I did," she said.

Mike Wartelle, the director of the Everett Education Association, said the district's response "lacked proportionality."

"We think the district has mixed the individual employee involvement into their vendetta against student press rights," he said. "It's definitely out of proportion to what may or may have not occurred."

In February, Superintendent Carol Whitehead met with the student editorial board of the Free Stehekin and with Powers to remind them that the publications had to be produced off campus. Powers was placed on administrative leave in May after officials alleged she continued to violate district policy. David Whittemore, who served as the paper's managing editor, also was suspended and nearly expelled after he was caught using a school computer to download files for the newspaper from his e-mail account.

Kathy Schrier, the president of the Washington Journalism Education Association, said she believed Whitehead and the district were trying to make it "impossible" for Powers to help produce the publications.

"They just do not want students to have the opportunity to have an authentic voice in their student publications," Schrier said.

The district has been the subject of similar criticism over the past few years. In 2005 two Everett High School student editors sued the district after a new principal instituted prior review of the student newspaper, The Kodak. The lawsuit was settled in August. While the U.S. District Court upheld the district's right to review school-sponsored student media before it went to the printer, it emphasized that school administrators could not prohibit its publication.

Powers was the adviser of both the newspaper and the literary magazine when students decided to move them underground in 2005 to avoid the prior review policy, which had also been enacted at Cascade High School. Students at Everett High School also created an underground paper, the Independent Kodak.

Schrier said Power's firing is a direct result of the district's attitude towards the student press.

"This is fallout from a bad policy and from a stubborn superintendent who refuses to face the fact that she created a repressive atmosphere for the student press," she said.

Neither the district nor Superintendent Whitehead could comment on the case, according to a spokeswoman.

Cascade High School, Free Stehekin, news, Tyro Libre, Washington