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Union continues fight to defend rights of teacher

The fight over a story published Friday in a Northern Nevada high school newspaper continues after the local teachers union complains the school district violated teacher rights.

Lauren Mac Lean, a 17-year-old senior at Churchill County High School in Fallon, published an article on allegations parents made about a music teacher withholding student audition tapes for a state musical competition.

The Churchill County Education Association tried unsuccessfully to stop the article from being printed last week and filed two grievances — one with the principal and one with the superintendent — claiming the school district violated its own policies and the teachers’ contract by allowing the piece to be published.

The next step is to file a grievance with the school board and then with an arbitrator if the teacher isn’t satisfied with the outcome. An arbitrator fee would cost the district and the union $20,000 apiece, said principal Kevin Lords.

The issue received coverage from The Associated Press and USA Today, among other news outlets, after Mac Lean’s First Amendment rights, which are limited as a high school reporter, were tested.

"It really blew out of proportion," Lords said. "It should have stayed right here."

What began as a local story had suddenly ballooned into a national constitutional debate.

"We agree the student newspaper has rights but not the same rights as a regular newspaper," union president April Chester said in a statement. "It is inappropriate and disruptive to the teaching-learning environment to air parent complaints about teachers in a school newspaper."

Some teachers made buttons in support of their co-worker, however, the superintendent told them not to wear them during classes because they were "a distraction to the learning environment."

Union member Margie Nuttall, in an e-mail Sunday to teachers, said, "A precedent has now been set to publicly try any coach that cuts someone at tryouts, any teacher that fails a student, any teacher that disciplines a student."

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