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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Carroll Teacher Writes to the Journal-Gazette

Teacher Jamie Drake Offers Up His Opinion

The following column was printed in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette on Thursday, January 26, 2006

First Amendment doesn’t protect expelled student

By Jamie Drake

After reading the Jan. 19 editorial concerning the expulsion of Carroll High School student Jeff Fraser, it became readily apparent to me that The Journal Gazette, Fraser and Sam Wysong, Fraser’s friend and fellow Carroll student, were not seeing the issue clearly.

I am a teacher at CHS and, in fact, I am one of the people attacked by Fraser’s “satire” or “parody.” By all accounts, his attack on me is much milder than that aimed at others in the building. In his book, Fraser calls me a “communist” and declares that I should be fired. These words are not satirical; they are straight from Fraser’s heart.

Unfortunately, I have never met Fraser. Our only contact occurred in October through an exchange of opinions in our student newspaper. From that moment on, Fraser declared repeatedly to students that I should be fired because my views were different from his.

Sometime after those exchanges Fraser wrote his book, for which he refuses to be held accountable. Instead, Fraser has draped himself with the First Amendment banner, encouraged Wysong to speak at a recent school board meeting on his behalf and initially committed to appear on a local morning radio program.

What Fraser fails to see is that the First Amendment has always been regulated and limited in our country. For example, if speech incites violence, it is not protected by the First Amendment. Fraser’s words may not have caused violence, but they could have caused a potentially dramatic (and violent) effect in my life had the administration and board of Northwest Allen County Schools taken his false accusations to heart. Luckily for me, it is 2006, not 1956.

In addition, the First Amendment does not protect students if speech causes disruptions of the learning environment. Fraser’s book has definitely caused this. Even though most students have not seen it, they have brought up the book in class continuously since its distribution. Finally, the First Amendment does not protect speech, whether printed or spoken, that exposes a person to public ridicule, hatred or contempt or that injures a person’s reputation in any way if that speech is based on information that has no basis in fact. In short, libel is not protected by the First Amendment.

A democratic society depends on people playing by the rules and extends rewards and privileges to those who do, while punishing those who choose otherwise. Make no mistake: Fraser chose to go beyond the rules in writing his book. The administrators of Carroll High School and Northwest Allen County Schools have the duty, right and authority to protect their interests and those of its students and staff. Therefore, the administrators have done the right thing in expelling Fraser.

If the administrators had not acted on the book, or if they allowed him to return at this point, they would be giving free license to every student to stand in the classroom and tell their teachers that they are terrible, should be fired or worse. Teaching and learning are challenging enough without this kind of disruption in the classroom. While I forgive Fraser, my forgiveness does not preclude accountability. He should accept the punishment he has received and move on and rebuild his life.

Jamie Drake teaches Spanish and Latin American studies at Carroll High School. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

And a commenter on Leo Morris' weblog, Opening Argument, who identified herself as Carrol High School Teacher Beth Opel, writes:
As a teacher at Carroll High School, it was refreshing to see you [Leo Morris] take a more balanced look at our unfortunate situation. It has been troubling to me that so many who have thrown their opinions into the fray have done so without any real knowledge about what is going on here.

I must, however, take exception to your contention that students at Carroll feel alienated and unhappy. In this case, Leo, you didn't research your statement to confirm its accuracy. I don't even believe that Fraser was unhappy here--he was quite involved and had friends. I've asked a good number of students (one at a time) about the issue, and EVERY SINGLE ONE thinks that what Fraser did was idiotic. They offer comparisons to the jobplace--if an employee were to direct the type of remarks that Fraser put into BOOK form toward his/her employer, that employee could expect to be fired!

I wish that those who have been painting our students as automatons kept in line by cruel dictators would come to our building to see the truth. The News-Sentinel (coincidentally? I think not) featured our student newspaper in last night's issue. One article depicted a beloved teacher receiving the Golden Apple Award and singing the praises of the high standards to which we hold our students; the students described classes as hands-on, fun, and relevant. Another article reported on the success of a recent fundraiser involving a student-faculty basketball game. Carroll High School is a wonderful school where rigor and high expectations are reaping results. I believe that a decision to uphold the expulsion of Jeff Fraser will RELIEVE most students and restore the sense of order and civility they have come to expect.

Jan 26, 2006 5:47:16 AM

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