MICKEY MAURER Commentary We need teachers to fight intolerance MEMORANDUM
TO: Eugene White, superintendent, Indianapolis Public Schools FROM: Michael S. Maurer DATE: May 19, 2007 RE: Amy Sorrell-an opportunity
Gene, have you been following the travails of Amy Sorrell? Please consider recruiting her to teach and mentor our children. Amy Sorrell was an English and journalism teacher at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School in Allen County near Fort Wayne. One of the courses she taught was "Student Publications" and in that capacity she acted as an adviser to the school newspaper, The Tomahawk. On Jan. 19, 2007, an article by sophomore Megan Chase advocating tolerance for homosexuals was published in The Tomahawk. Chase wrote:
"I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today's society. I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they're just different than you."
Soon after The Tomahawk went to press, a series of events transpired that led to Sorrell's suspension for five days without pay and banishment from Woodlan Junior-Senior High School. She was reassigned to another school in the district where next year she will teach English but not work with students on the yearbook or newspaper.
Superintendent of East Allen County Schools, Dr. Kay Novotny, stated that intolerance to homosexuals was not the issue and that the punishment and reprimand were routine personnel matters that grew out of Sorrell's failure to clear the column in advance with school officials.
Give Novotny an A for a valiant spin; however, the facts mandate a different conclusion:
A. The school's principal, Ed Yoder, has been quoted saying the column's content wasn't suitable for the school paper.
B. In 1995, the school board formally condemned homosexuality.
C. According to Sorrell's attorney, Patrick Proctor, "Given that the settlement agreement prevents Amy Sorrell from bidding for a journalism position for three years, the administration clearly expressed that it was not willing to reinstate her to a journalistic position."
No doubt, school administrators have the ultimate right to decide the content of school-sponsored publications and a volcanic reaction over the issue of homosexuality tolerance is their concern. I must say, however, I am saddened by the lessons these Hoosier children are learning and the prejudice that their administrators are perpetuating. Intolerance and bigotry know no boundaries. Within the seeds of homophobia you will find racism, xenophobia and all the rest.
What message has been sent to the author of the piece, Megan Chase, and her associates on the staff of The Tomahawk? But that is Allen County's problem.
Gene, let's land Amy Sorrell. She has talent. Sorrell's students won many awards recently at Ball State University's J-Day for student journalists. Ironically, the awards included recognition for Megan Chase for the column that sparked the controversy.
Sorrell has been teaching for eight years and will impart understanding and a system of values to our students that will equip them to deal openly and fairly with their fellow man. These qualities are essential for success in the new world economy.
There have been allegations and admissions of insubordination. Perhaps Sorrell could have been more diplomatic in taking her allegation of bigotry to the press. She created an emotional firestorm, but I respect her ardent advocacy on this issue. Some of the best employees are aggravating at times, but the trade-off is a good one. Controversy should be expected from time to time from a creative employee. An administrator of your caliber can foster excellence in lively teachers with vast potential.
Gene, you were an administrator in the Fort Wayne system. You probably know what is going on up there better than I. I do know that if this lady is smart, she will leave the East Allen County School System-and she is smart. Why can't we be the beneficiary? I want this teacher in our community, don't you?
Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns the Indianapolis Business Journal. To comment on this column, send e-mail to email@example.com or go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.com.