Nev. teachers union tries to block student newspaper article

Friday, January 29, 2010

Editor’s note: Kathy Archey filed a lawsuit March 5, claiming Lauren Mac Lean’s article damaged her reputation. The suit names district Superintendent Carolyn Ross, high school Principal Kevin Lords, journalism adviser Myke Nelson and Steve Ranson, editor of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard, as defendants. The suit seeks damages in excess of $10,000 from the defendants.

FALLON, Nev. — A Nevada school newspaper has been allowed to run an article critical of a teacher, even though a teachers union sought to block its publication.

The article by senior Lauren Mac Lean at Churchill County High School in Fallon is scheduled to run today in the school’s paper, The Flash. (The local newspaper, the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard, has posted a copy it received of the article here.)

Mac Lean’s story focuses on parents who contend that music teacher Kathy Archey withheld some student audition tapes for a prestigious state competition for aspiring student musicians.

Some parents said their children were devastated to learn their tapes had not been submitted to program organizers.

School Principal Kevin Lords and school district Superintendent Carolyn Ross said it would have been a violation of the First Amendment had they blocked the article’s publication.

In Nevada, a principal has the authority to decide whether an article will run, unless the school board or superintendent says otherwise, school officials said.

“When we cut freedom of speech, we’d better be very careful on what we’re censoring,” Lords told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“I believe the greater risk is to suppress information from the public that they have a right to know,” Ross said.

In its grievance filed with Lords and Ross, the teachers union, the Churchill County Education Association, claimed the article would harm the teacher’s employment and could deprive her “of any professional advantage without just cause.”

The Lahontan Valley News reported late yesterday that the union had filed a second grievance against Ross for disclosing information about the original grievance.

Archey did not return a phone call in time for this story. April Chester, president of the Churchill County Education Association, declined to comment.

Mac Lean said she worked with Lords and an adviser at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno to ensure the article was reasonable for a student newspaper.

“I wrote the article in a way that it wasn’t attacking Kathy Archey. … It was really hard,” she told the Lahontan Valley News. “There was so much on the line, people’s jobs, people’s reputations.”

Mac Lean said the action taken by the teachers union surprised her.

“It shows me they’re more interested in protecting a teacher’s reputation and keeping their jobs than teaching the students,” she said.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said it’s rare that a teachers union would “try to muzzle a student newspaper.”

“The fact that a story might provoke disagreement is not a justification,” LoMonte said. “That’s what newspapers are supposed to do, to provoke people, have disagreements and make them think.”

Jerry Ceppos, dean of the University of Nevada, Reno’s journalism school, said the situation was a case of prior restraint.

“I am so troubled that a teachers group would try to block the publication of a news story,” Ceppos said. “This is contrary to what teachers should be teaching. I don’t understand it. They ought to be teaching rights and responsibilities of the First Amendment.”

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