> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
“The First Amendment was designed to protect offensive speech, because nobody ever tries to ban the other kind”
— Mike Godwin
I met with two young ladies who graduated from Jeffersonville High School recently. They had a story to tell. They said nobody would tell it.
Courtney Francisco was the editor of last year’s JHS yearbook. Shacoya Kidwell was the Team Leader on the yearbook staff.
Kidwell said she started to get complaints when people who had already paid for their copies of the yearbook did not receive them when promised. She could get no answers in September 2011 as to why the order had not been delivered. After requesting the teacher/adviser to come to a few yearbook staff meetings, the teacher finally appeared. What the students at the meeting were told was a bit upsetting, she said.
Kidwell, Francisco and the other students on the yearbook staff were told by the teacher that the students had to make up a shortage of funds required before the yearbooks could be shipped. The 15 students on the yearbook staff would each have to raise $500, and even stranger — none of them could tell anybody. This was to be kept a secret from everyone else, the students told me.
Kidwell said one of the ideas was for each student to hold a yard sale and sell their own personal items. The insinuation was made that the shortage was due to something the JHS yearbook students had not done. As Kidwell told me, “We thought it was our fault.”
What followed was communication between the teacher and students telling them she could lose her job, she said.
After a few weeks of stress, Francisco told me her father contacted the school. Kidwell finally went to school authorities. She sent me one e-mail example to a high school assistant principal. Her angst was apparent when she advised the administrator that people were really getting angry over the undelivered yearbooks.
In October, the teacher was suspended. Further investigation showed more debt was owed to Jostens — the company that published the yearbooks.
After the suspension, the students worked with JHS administration personnel, including Principal Jim Sexton. In February, there was a pep rally at the school. Students made $1 donations. There was a “rap battle” and tug-of-war games. There was a musical chairs game involving teachers with whipped cream pies in the face going to the unseated contestants.
Eventually, the necessary dollars were raised to get the yearbooks delivered, thanks much to the efforts and support of the student body. Jostens agreed to forgive some of the back debt and a three-year deal was reached to pay off the remaining shortage.
That teacher filed a lawsuit unrelated to the incident and has since accepted a cash settlement and left the school corporation’s employment. The exact terms of the settlement were protected in a nondisclosure agreement. Many such problems are routinely made to go away without adverse publicity in school corporations.
During much of this time period, a public outcry over First Amendment rights was waged locally. I felt at the time as I do today that there was no censorship attempt.
In fact, when I was e-mailed about it at the time I personally visited Sexton in his office and he explained his issues with the grammar and other problems with the quality of high school publications. He can verify that I told him at the time that if I were to discover any censorship he and I would be on the opposite sides of a very public battle.
The teacher/sponsor was the role of editor and the corporation in the person of Jim Sexton was the publisher. He had requested an advance copy for proofreading purposes prior to publication. Although such a request might have caused problems under a tight deadline, any publisher has a right to review any material prior to publication.
In the end, Francisco and Kidwell told me their senior year ended on a happy note. They credit Ericka Herd the new yearbook staff adviser and Camille Kalmey, yearbook adviser, for that happy ending.
Kidwell is now planning to attend UK and hopes to find out later this summer if she has been awarded a Chandler scholarship to pursue her career in communications and journalism.
Francisco plans to attend U of L and study journalism. Both young ladies received quite an education above and beyond textbooks with their respective experiences last year regarding journalism and how blind trust of an authority figure can be a dangerous thing.
Along with a diploma, there was some graduate level education in life 101.
— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com