Illinois high school to remove paper adviser over drug articles

ILLINOIS -- A veteran teacher who refused to resign her post as newspaper adviser for Naperville Central High School said she was told by administrators today that this will be her last year as adviser and journalism teacher.

The removal comes amid Principal Jim Caudill's decision to review the Central Times editorial policy after he said a February newspaper spread on marijuana use "seemed to glorify drug use" and use unnecessary profanity.

"We're concerned about the safety and welfare of our students," he said.

Linda Kane, who has been the Central Times adviser for 19 years, said administrators disapproved of comments she made in a March 7 article in a local commercial newspaper, the Daily Herald, in which she defended the staff's use of profanity and decision to run the articles. She told the Daily Herald

that school administrators "don't know squat" about First Amendment law.

Caudill told the Student Press Law Center last week that he is waiting for feedback from the school's attorneys about the policy change but that he does not wish to exercise prior review.

At that time he did not mention removing Kane as adviser but said he hoped to sit down with her in the coming weeks to discuss her position.

Kane said administrators told her last week she could either resign by March 14 or she would be relieved of her journalism duties at the school, meaning she could only teach English until she reaches retirement in two years. On Friday, when she had not resigned, she was given a letter of reprimand, and on Monday she was given a formal letter telling her she would be relieved of her post at the end of the school year. She has not yet decided whether to take legal action.

Kane said not being adviser in her last two years will cost her $12,000 in salary and also will affect her retirement because Illinois law uses a teacher's last four years of pay to determine the size of a pension.

Kane said the letter of reprimand gave "silly" reasons for her removal as adviser. The reasons included facial expressions she made while the principal spoke to the newspaper staff about the profanity and drug articles, as well as the comments she made to the Daily Herald.

"They told me I had no business making remarks like that," she said.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC, said the organization has seen numerous instances of schools trying to get around the First Amendment prohibition on censorship by trumping up personnel actions against journalism advisers.

"We are closely monitoring this situation and we urge school authorities to consider carefully whether Ms. Kane was retaliated against for protecting her students' rights," LoMonte said.

Superintendent Alan Leis said the principal ultimately makes the decision on whether someone should continue as adviser.

"It's a concern when any coach or sponsor makes comments questioning the motivation of administration," he said.

"But mostly this just makes me sad. I've heard from many students who talk about what an incredibly wonderful job she did."

Kane said the whole issue began over the Feb. 28 newspaper spread.

"It all started with the articles and it's escalated into a personnel matter because I spoke up on behalf of my staff," she said.

Hannah Oppenheimer, Central Times editor in chief, saidthe 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."

The issue upset much of the high school's staff, he said.

"I've had three phone calls, which is not the end of the world, but our staff is just bonkers over it and they just think it glorifies [drug use]," he said. "The language probably bothered them a little less than it did me."

Oppenheimer said the profanity complied with the student editorial policy, which states profanity can be used if it is in a direct quote and is pertinent to the article. She said the principal would be infringing on students' First Amendment rights by changing the policy in regard to language.

LoMonte said it is constitutionally questionable whether a strict no-profanity policy could be enforced.

"There are times when a particular word is central to the telling of a story, and it is not in any way disruptive or inconsistent with the school's educational function."

Caudill said the Central Times is "one of the best papers in the country."

"A good newspaper is going to be controversial, I understand that," he said. "99.99 percent of the time it's an incredible paper."

Kane said she was asked to start the Central Times in 1989.

"I began the program almost 19 years ago. I have really close ties, really close feelings to this program," she said.

A message left with the student activities director, who was involved in discussions between Kane and administrators, was not returned by Monday afternoon. Caudill did not return a message left with him Monday.

Central Times, Illinois, Naperville Central High School, news