N.D. teacher removed as school newspaper adviser

Saturday, June 27, 2009

WEST FARGO, N.D. — A teacher who advises the West Fargo High School newspaper
has been removed from that position, and is receiving legal advice through the
state teachers union.

Jeremy Murphy said school officials objected to negative content in The
particularly student-written opinion columns. He said administrators
cited a “difference in philosophy” over the role of a student newspaper

“I advise [The Packer] as a student-run publication,” Murphy said. “So
the students make the content decisions. My role as an adviser is just to help
them evaluate the value of what they’re reporting.”

School officials felt he should exercise more control, Murphy said. The First
Amendment Center Online left a message for West Fargo Superintendent Dana Diesel

Asked if he planned to take legal action against the district, Murphy said he
had been advised not to comment. He is receiving legal counsel through the North
Dakota Education Association.

A May editorial posted on the newspaper’s Web site criticized school
officials for a lack of student input in recent decisions.

“This shows a lack of restraint and consideration from administrative
officials to gauge the outcome of the people being affected,” the students
wrote. “More time should be spent contemplating and going over the issues with
those involved rather than jumping hastily into action.”

Jessica Ballou, a journalism student at Concordia College in Minnesota and a
former Packer editor told the First Amendment Center Online that the
newspaper changed for the better when Murphy became the adviser two years ago.
She said Murphy taught the staff to include both sides of stories and report
like professional journalists.

“He taught us to ask the tough questions,” Ballou said.

The newspaper recently took top honors in a state competition sponsored by
the Northern Interscholastic Press Association, including best overall school
newspaper and journalist of the year.

Murphy said he would continue as the school’s yearbook adviser, but that
administrators had not decided whether he would continue to teach a prerequisite
journalism class at the high school.

First Amendment Center Online intern Brian Schraum contributed to this
report. Schraum is a journalism graduate student at the University of Missouri, where he studies media law and policy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from Washington State University.