Teacher under fire after high school students publish dating survival guide

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana high school media adviser said she may face possible disciplinary action after her students published a magazine on dating and relationships.

Plainfield High School English teacher Michelle Burress landed in the school board's cross hairs after the first issue of The Shakedown was distributed to students Monday. Burress is the Plainfield (Ind.) Community School Corp.'s 2017 Teacher of the Year.

The magazine headlined "Plainfield High School's Dating Survival Guide Declassified" was created entirely by students in Burress' publications class.

Student editors said it was published to much fanfare among classmates, but quickly started to receive backlash.

"We were so excited to put them out," said Kayla Mays, a junior and co-editor of the issue with classmate Anu Nattam. "We were so proud. It was completely unlike anything we'd done before."

The staff received about 1,700 copies of the printed publication and delivered them to every class Monday. Mays said negative comments started within hours.

"Parents need to be aware that Plainfield High School has published and distributed to students a magazine telling our children that casual sex and even group (sex) is OK," Bret Allen wrote on Facebook.

Allen, the daughter of the Plainfield Schools board president Michael Allen, pointed at one article penned by a ninth-grade boy who described a sleepover with his girlfriend. Both had their parents' permission and their physical contact was limited to a hug, the boy wrote.

Allen also pointed to the highlighted definition of the word polyamory, which is a relationship involving more than two people.

"This and more about what is acceptable when it comes to sex is what our children as young as 14 are being taught at Plainfield High School," Allen wrote. Allen's Facebook page is no longer visible to the public.

Mays said Allen posted snippets of stories without context and the publication staff stands by its work.

"We didn't think there was anything to be ashamed of," she said. "It was completely unbiased, completely informative."

Plainfield Schools' board had initially scheduled a disciplinary meeting with Burress on Monday, but Sabrina Kapp, the director of Communications, said Friday the meeting was cancelled.

The board's next regular meeting is Nov. 9.

"Because I might be facing potential disciplinary action, my attorney has advised that I not discuss the situation," Burress said in an email. 

Ryan Gunterman, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, said nothing in the 24-page magazine promotes or glamorizes sex.

"This is well done, non-sensationalist material here," said Gunterman. "We don't know what the big deal is, honestly."

Mays said students are worried about the school's administration trying to censor its young journalists, but another publication team is already working on the next issue.

"We expect there will be backlash with that, as well," she said. "We're not letting it stop us. We’re here to do a job. We’re here to inform."

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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