Ore. adviser's contract not renewed following paper's editorial critiquing dress code

OREGON -- Newspaper adviser Loradona May will not be returning to North Douglas High School next year after an editorial about enforcement of the school's dress code caused controversy.

May's contract is not being renewed based on the school's contention that she violated school board policy on freedom of expression, May said. The problem, as she perceives it, stems from this October editorial. It was when a parent was offended and complained to the principal, Scott Yakovich, that May became involved.

There were two problems with the editorial, May said. The first being a quote from a teacher that read: "I like the dress code policy; I don't want to see where your babies come from," and the second being a call for the school to mandate that cheerleader outfits comply with the dress code as well.

"The principal suggested that I had been irresponsible in not cutting that, or having them change that," May said. "I didn't see any way it could be perceived as obscene or inappropriate. When you're looking at Oregon law, [if] it's not libelous, it's not obscene, it didn't cause a disruption--it doesn't meet the standard for legally altering statements."

From that point forward, May said Yakovich insisted on prior reviewing every issue of the newspaper. Prior to this year, the newspaper has never operated under a prior review policy, she said. Oregon's student free expression law places control of the newspaper in the students' hands, as long as their work is not unlawful or likely to provide disruption.

"The district is leaning on this policy that says administration may exercise the right to approve student publications," May said.

In February, May was informed in a letter from the school board that her contract would not be renewed for the 2010-2011 school year because of her failure to "faithfully comply with board policy 1B, 'Freedom of Expression.' "

Aside from this statement, and the claim that she had encouraged students to defy policy as well, May said she was given no reason for the school board's decision. May has never received a negative review after an administrative evaluation of her classroom performance.

"What makes me the maddest in this case is that this adviser is being removed because she followed the law," said Mike Hiestand, an attorney for the Student Press Law Center. "The reality is neither she nor the principal, who wants this [the editorial] out, have the legal right to take it out. It was completely lawful and protected speech under Oregon State law."

After the editorial ran in October, the students tried to engage in dialogue with the superintendent, with whom they have had a fairly harmonious relationship in the past. Though their attempts did not produce any significant progress, May feels as though her students have taken valuable lessons from the situation.

"I think they've seen that number one, [students'] opinions, according to the administration, are not as valid as an adult's opinion," May said. "And number two, I think they've discovered that while maybe not valued, their opinions are every bit as powerful as anybody else's."

A lesson can even be gleaned from the prior review process, she said. When the policy was set in place by the principal, May said she had to teach the students that, as journalists, they should be writing their stories with accuracy in mind--not tailoring them to what they think the principal will approve of.

"There immediately becomes this danger of students filtering, and not for the right reasons," May said. "Not because they have learned what's appropriate or not appropriate, but filtering for the administration's approval."

May said the administration gave no indication as to the future of the newspaper, although the school has not released the schedule of classes for next year yet.

Yakovich did not return phone calls by press time.

news, North Douglas High School, Oregon